There’s an old saying that you can't go home again, but for Junior Seau, a true San Diego legend, that cliché just didn’t seem to apply.
His exploits at Oceanside High School in the north county section of San Diego were legendary. Not only did he lead his Pirates team to the 1986 section title in football as a Parade All-American linebacker, but he was also named the area player of the year in basketball and was a talented shot putter.
When it came time to attend college, he didn't go far when he chose to attend the University of Southern California. There was a brief obstacle to his career when he was forced to sit out his freshman season at USC after not qualifying academically, and he apologized to his Oceanside teachers, family and friends for that shortcoming.
Once he saw the field for the Trojans, it was obvious that he was a special talent. Seau was a linebacker who combined speed and a ferocious pass-rushing ability that caused havoc with opposing players. As intimidating as he was on the field, teammates remember him differently off the field.
"He was just a massive guy and so intimidating to look at," former USC wide receiver John Jackson said. "But as a person, he was completely different from that. He was the epitome of the laid-back surfer guy who would give you the shirt off his back. Everything was, 'Buddy, hey buddy, how ya doing?' Just a real gentle guy."
Seau totaled 19 sacks in his junior season at USC in 1989 while being named an All-American, and he declared for the NFL draft. When the San Diego Chargers picked him with the No. 5 selection in the first round, it seemed like a match made in heaven, as he wasted no time in marking his mark.
On the field, he was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl in his rookie year and was named the AFC Player of the Year in 1994 while leading his team to a Super Bowl appearance. Off the field, he married a former Chargers front-office employee and opened a popular local restaurant called Seau's. He started the Junior Seau Foundation to support area youth, as well as a clothing line which he named "Say-Ow".
"It always struck me to see how he interacted with people," former Chargers teammate and ESPN commentator Marcellus Wiley said. "Just his spirit and demeanor. He didn't carry himself like someone who had accomplished so much, people would see him and be in awe of who he was, but he would treat them like a friend. Not every big-time guy is like that, he had a Hall of Fame personality with how he dealt with everyone."
By the time his playing career was done, he had played for three teams, was named to 12 Pro Bowls and was a member of the 1990 All-Decade team by the NFL. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame for both USC and the Chargers.
Seau settled into a beachside home in San Diego for retirement to raise his three children and host events such as the Junior Seau golf tournament each year at La Costa Resort and Spa. He was spotted recently at the USC spring game as part of a group of former Trojans legends who had gathered for the event, and he looked relaxed as he strummed a ukulele on the field before the scrimmage.
Now the news comes of his death, and it has sent shockwaves through the sports world, but nowhere does the reality hit home more than in his hometown. He starred on the local prep fields, he created great memories in college and the pros and then he benefited the community after his playing days with his charity work. A sad ending to a life that brought so much joy to so many people.