Sean Constantine's leap of faith pays off

Sean Constantine: 'For it all to come together is pretty amazing, looking back on it ... ' Mason Kelly/ESPN.com

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Sean Constantine pulled into the Bellevue (Wash.) High School parking lot a few hours before a summer scrimmage.

The 6-foot-3, 229-pound linebacker stepped out of a white SUV. He wore a black T-shirt -- the sleeves were cut off -- and shorts. He walked over to the stands at the school's stadium and sat down in a shady seat.

He looked down at the empty field. He thought about his senior season and his future at Washington. He tried to create context for the last four years of his life.

"It shouldn't have happened," he said.

It shouldn't have happened because, to get to this point, he moved from Madras, Ore., to Bellevue. He made the difficult decision to leave his mother, Carrie Gandy, to live with his father, Mike. Then, after the economy crashed and his father lost his job, he fell into a new family. He moved in with Wolverines assistant coach Pat Jones, his wife, Marianne, and their six kids, Jordan, Dakota, Dallas, Montana, Brooklyn and Indiana.

"I took a leap of faith that everything would go right, and it did," Constantine said.

His turbulent trip started in eighth grade. He wanted to be closer to his older brother, Beck. He wanted to build a better connection with his father.

"My mom, I love her to death, and I feel like she understood it was the right thing to do," he said. "And I wanted to get to know my dad more."

He also dreamed of playing football at Bellevue, which has won nine of the last 11 state championships in Washington's 3A classification.

By the time he was a freshman, though, the economy was in crisis. His father, an electrician, couldn't find work.

"We lost our house," Constantine said.

He was in danger of losing all the things that brought him to Bellevue -- his family and football.

Pat Jones didn't know Constantine well at the time, but his son, Dakota, was the same age. After talking with people in the community and his family, Jones offered Constantine a place to live.

"We have a big place, we can take Sean," Jones said at the time -- the family also took in Beck a few months later. "Oddly enough, making dinner for 10 isn't much different than making dinner for eight."

When first presented with the opportunity to move in, Constantine considered it an extended sleepover.

"Oh yeah, I'm going to go hang out with my friend Dakota at his house and do whatever," he thought at the time.

That image changed the first time Marianne -- who is running for superior court judge -- picked him up for morning math tutoring. It was 7 a.m., and Constantine figured Marianne would forget. She didn't.

"That could have been one of the hardest mornings I've ever had," Constantine said. "Right then I could tell they were serious. It was a serious, 'Let's get his [butt] in gear and ready to move on to the next level' moment."

On the second day in his new home, Marianne helped Constantine with an English project until 3 a.m. After that, he felt like part of the family.

"OK, she cares," he thought. "This is awful, but she cares."

The first few months weren't easy. Even though he is a football coach, Jones refused to let Constantine play until his grades improved.

Looking back, Constantine said he needed the "wake-up call."

"For them to open up their hearts and their household is huge and just speaks a ton about them," he said. "They are the most humble people you'll meet."

While he needed to find his focus in the classroom, dedication was never an issue on the football field. He fell in love with the game growing up in Oregon. He loved to hit and was always growling and making noises on the field. He talked so much as a child his mother nicknamed him "Bird."

"He's our big bird dog," his mother said. "He chirped all the time. He's a talker."

But being a part of the team is what really grabbed Constantine.

"He's one of the most hardworking people I've ever met," Dakota said. "Sean's always getting on my case, because he likes to wake up at 6:30 a.m. in the summer and go work out before we have football practice. I don't understand that at all. It's crazy to me."

Washington was the first program to offer Constantine as a junior last season. He admitted he wasn't a fan of the Huskies growing up. In fact, when he first moved into the Jones' house, he pretended to be a Washington State fan.

"I just wanted to have that little controversy in the house," said Constantine, who couldn't resist the opportunity to get under coach Jones' skin.

The more time he spent around Washington's program, though, the more it reminded him of the family he found at Bellevue.

"I don't want to play for a coach that is known for a million championships, but is like some CEO-of-a-company type where he doesn't talk to his players," Constantine said. "Sark [Steve Sarkisian] is not like that at all. He comes out and talks to all the players. He's a really down-to-earth guy.

"There's a real family atmosphere, and I'm about the family atmosphere."

When he gave a verbal commitment to the Huskies after the spring game in April, he pulled Sarkisian aside at CenturyLink Field and said, "Hey, coach Sark. I commit."

With one simple sentence, he secured his football future.

"That was always his goal," Beck said. "It wasn't like one day it just kind of popped up. He worked toward that and made sacrifices that put him in the position he's in today. That was his goal. He wanted to play at the college level and he took those steps to get there."

As Constantine prepares for his senior season, his father is back on his feet. He misses his mother but keeps in close contact. He has his own room at the Jones' house, and his work in the classroom has put him in a position to focus on football.

His life hasn't played out as planned, but he is happy where he is headed.

"For it all to come together is pretty amazing, looking back on it, because it shouldn't have happened," he said. "It shouldn't have, but it did."