LAS VEGAS — Maybe it makes sense that the kid who once felt he didn’t fit in now can’t help but stand out.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins has yet to complete his second full season as a Washington Husky. That comes today, when Washington plays Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
But he has already rewritten the Washington record book for tight ends, having made more career receptions (104) and touchdown catches (12) than any player at his position in school history.
The numbers validate the hype that greeted the 6-foot-6, 266-pound Seferian-Jenkins when he signed with Washington out of Gig Harbor High, when he was generally considered one of the top two prep tight ends in the country.
They also seem to make it a given that he will be a high NFL draft choice. He could declare for the draft after the 2013 season.
“ASJ is a special player,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., said last week. “He has great ability, tremendous size. … You look at the way that tight ends are being utilized (in the NFL), he’s got a chance to be an early first-round pick next year. He’s going to be one of the elite, elite players in next year’s draft as a true junior.”
Seferian-Jenkins says he’s not yet thinking about that.
“I’m just focused on this season right now and I’ll think about it in the offseason if there’s an actual chance for me to do something in that league, which would be great,” he said.
His success makes his football rise seem preordained.
Seferian-Jenkins was always a big kid, weighing nine pounds, nine ounces at birth. But he remembers when his size wasn’t necessarily a blessing.
In elementary school, he recalled, “no one really talked to me. I was kind of a big kid and everyone was scared of me. … I just didn’t fit in. Once I got into the seventh grade and started playing sports, I got more friends.”
Not that there weren’t fits and starts on athletic fields, as well.
“He played soccer initially, when he was like 4 to 5 years old, and honestly he just ran people over on the field,” said his mother, Linda Seferian. “And it wasn’t funny to a lot of the other parents because he was really big and he had no idea where he was going. He was just running and he’d be knocking people down.”
When he seriously began playing football and basketball a few years later, the true nature of his talent began to kick in.
He was in the eighth grade when he got his first recruiting letter, for basketball and from either “UNLV or Eastern Washington,” he said.
“He was around the eighth, ninth grade when football just really took off for him and he just really fell in love with it,” said his mother.
He admits he still had a little baby fat, which he began to shed after he dedicated himself to eating better and working out at least an hour a day. By his junior year of high school, the only question was which college he’d attend, and what position he’d play. He could have gone almost anywhere in the country, but family ties helped keep him close to home.
But it was never all about sports for Seferian-Jenkins. His grandfather, Edward Seferian, was a longtime conductor of the Tacoma Symphony, and music was a constant in the household. Austin played the tuba and saxophone growing up.
His father, John Jenkins, was in the military. His parents, who are no longer together, gave him both their last names at birth, and it has yielded the handy “ASJ” acronym.
“I don’t know why,” Linda Seferian said. “We just decided to do that.”
Seferian-Jenkins says he doesn’t want to be known as just an athlete. He talks of wanting to own a business, and also is looking into a political science major at Washington.
His mother marvels at how easily Seferian-Jenkins can shift out of football mode when he returns to Gig Harbor. His visits include time with his best friend since kindergarten. Brendan McGinty has high-functioning Asperger’s, though Seferian-Jenkins didn’t know that when they struck up a friendship that has endured.
“Austin and Brendan were always in the same class,” said McGinty’s mother, Audry. “The first day of kindergarten, Brendan was absolutely terrified and Austin, I remember like it was yesterday, walked up and said, ‘Hi, my name is Austin.’ And they started reading books together and they have been connected at the hip ever since.”
Seferian-Jenkins has often been McGinty’s best protector.
“Brendan would have gotten his (behind) kicked so many times if it wasn’t for Austin,” said Audry McGinty. “He’s a great kid who has done so many things for Brendan and been so kind. He has been a godsend to our family.”
As he has been, in a different way, to the Huskies.