"My mom never dated after that," says Sehorn. "She didn't want different men coming to the house. Her theory was, she didn't want her boys exposed to any bad influences. She sent Colby and me to a private Christian school, although she couldn't afford to. The respect I have for my mother is incredible. She got me here, she did it with faith and values and determination and sacrifice, and she did it alone."
Even Nancy's closest friends lovingly call her "a piece of work." She grew up in a conservative home during the rebellious 1960s and became a Republican after reading an article by William F. Buckley Jr. in Playboy. She admired Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and found inspiration in the objectivist philosophy espoused by writer Ayn Rand. When Jason and Colby were children, Nancy didn't own a car. "Cars weren't a necessity," she says, "but back then neither were a lot of other things."
They lived in the barrio in downtown Sacramento. In their little rented house, Jason and Colby shared one room, and Nancy made do in the front room, formerly the living room. In the morning nine-year-old Jason helped his diapered two-year-old brother onto a city bus and rode with him to a preschool program; then Jason transferred to another city bus for the long ride to his school. Nancy refused any government assistance such as welfare or food stamps. Jason knew they were poor because some incident would inevitably serve as a reminder. "When you go to Marshall's for school shopping," he says, "and the clerk at the register takes out a pair of scissors and cuts up your mom's credit card in front of the whole store, you know things aren't easy."
"My sons were raised by a single mother not because of fate or God," Nancy says. "They were raised by a single mom because their mother made poor choices. I did this, I let it happen. I told them that the way we lived was not normal and not the normal way God would have children raised."
Even when Jason was a toddler, Nancy told people that he was going to be an Olympic star. When he was four, she put him on a large girl's bicycle and couldn't get over how he shifted his little body from left to right as he pumped the pedals, saying, "I can do this, I can do this, I can do this." Nancy bought Jason a nine-dollar skateboard when he was six and watched in awe as he glided along the street.
When Jason was a freshman in high school, Nancy borrowed a friend's Mercedes and drove Jason and his date to a dance. "One day, Mom, I'm going to buy you a car like this," he told her. They laughed because such a scenario seemed ridiculous. The next year they moved to Mount Shasta, Calif., from where Nancy commuted to Odyssey. The town, at the base of snowcapped, 14,000-foot Mount Shasta, is an hour from the Oregon border, and the enrollment at the high school was only about 300.
Jason didn't go out for football until his senior year, when his school's new coach, Joe Blevins, convinced him that he might not make a half-bad receiver or running back. "I was the classic late bloomer," says Sehorn, who ended up playing both positions. "I was the undersized kid who saw the football players beating each other up in practice and wanted no part of that. Also, you had to maintain a 2.0 grade point average, and I didn't see the purpose. I was the 15-year-old who missed class and said, 'I'm not going to ever need this stuff. E=mc. Oh, does it? Well, great! Do you think I want to be a chemical engineer?' I was a punk kid, is all I was."
"The first time I saw Jason," says Sonny Stupek, then the football coach at Shasta Community College in Redding, Calif., "he was a senior playing an away game at Fall River High in McArthur, out in the middle of nowhere. Before the game Jason was laughing and doing back flips in the end zone. While his teammates were running tight little drills, he was trying to slam footballs over the crossbar on the goalpost. Jason played tailback that night and rushed like 20 times for 48 yards. Granted, that's no big deal. But get this: He also returned three kicks for touchdowns."
Because Sehorn was such a poor student, he was classified as a Prop 48, ineligible to play immediately at an NCAA Division I school. This meant that Shasta, a junior college in the Golden Valley Conference, had a chance to lure him to its football program. One day, when Stupek saw Sehorn working out in the Shasta gym, Sehorn palmed a regulation-sized basketball in each hand. Stupek, on a lark, directed Sehorn to stand under a basket. "Jason," he said, "I want you to jump, spin around and jam both of those balls."
"But they both won't go in at once," said Sehorn, who at the time stood 6'1" and 195 pounds.