- By Tom Shanahan, San Diego Hall of Champions
Wayne Sevier’s foot felt stiff on a fall morning six years ago just as it had for the past month and a half, but the retired coach with two Super Bowl rings as an assistant for Joe Gibbs with the Washington Redskins assumed it was an old football injury.
He shook off the stiffness because it was game day and that’s what old football players do, even if game day in this case meant he was a grandfather heading off to watch one of his grandsons play a Pop Warner game.
The Sevier name first came to prominence in San Diego football nearly a half-century ago when Wayne was a quarterback at Sweetwater High. He led his 1958 Red Devils from National City to the Southern California semifinals back in the days when San Diego schools were part of the mammoth Southern Section to the north. Just seven years later, at the age of 24, Wayne was named the head coach at his alma mater.
Sevier is still an active name in San Diego football, thanks to a pair of grandsons at West Hills High in Santee. Ryan Sevier is a senior receiver/defensive back/return man and Raleigh Sevier a sophomore running back for the Wolf Pack, who are favorites to defend their Grossmont North League title.
Wayne was Don Coryell’s first quarterback at San Diego State in 1961 after transferring home from Washington. Sevier and Gibbs were teammates at San Diego State, and Sevier and Gibbs later served on Coryell’s staffs with the Chargers before Sevier followed Gibbs to Washington.
But in the fall of 1999 Wayne was 58 and enjoying his first full season of retirement after he had spent one final season on the sidelines with the Chargers in 1998. The routine he planned to settle into for years to come was to fly down from his retirement home in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, for his grandsons’ games. He kept a motor home in San Diego so that he and sons Mike and Thane could travel around San Diego County for games.
Two weeks earlier Wayne had seen grandson Robby Sevier, then a freshman at Poway High, and grandson Ryan, then a sixth-grader playing Pop Warner in Santee, score touchdowns.
Robby, Thane’s son, scored touchdowns on a 90-yard kickoff return and an 85-yard interception in a freshman game. The next day Ryan – Ryan and Raleigh are Mike’s sons — returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns.
The fateful Saturday at Monte Vista High’s field was the old coach’s first chance to see Raleigh play Pop Warner as a fourth-grader. Wayne’s final game day started out gloriously as Raleigh scored four touchdowns.
But later when Mike turned to say something to his father, Wayne wasn’t there. Someone guessed he had gone back to the motor home to rest.
“A woman came yelling that a man was having a heart attack in a motor home and for someone to call 911,” Mike said. “My Dad’s motor home was the only one in the parking lot, so I knew. He died on the way to the hospital.”
Later the Seviers would learn the stiffness Wayne had felt in his foot was from a blood clot that subsequently spread to his heart.
“He didn’t like to go to doctors,” Mike said. “Otherwise he might still be here going to games with us.”
Wayne would enjoy how Ryan and Raleigh are carrying on the family name at West Hills. Although Wayne was a big man, 6 foot 3, his grandsons must play bigger than their size. Ryan is a 5-6, 145-pounder and Raleigh a 5-8, 155-pounder.
“He might show us some things about techniques, but mostly he talked about working hard and staying ahead of the game,” Ryan said. “He told me there is going to be contact in football, but the guy who gets lower (with leverage) wins.”
Added Raleigh, “He liked to say it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the fight in the dog.”
Ryan, playing his fourth varsity season, scored 11 touchdowns last year while gaining 412 yards rushing, 786 receiving and 568 in return yards for 1,766 all-purpose yards. He was a second-team All-CIF choice and named the Grossmont North League Player of the Year for the second straight season.
Raleigh, playing his second varsity season, will see the ball more as a sophomore after gaining 578 yards rushing and 261 receiving for 12 touchdowns as a freshman. He was a second-team All-Grossmont North running back last year.
“When my Dad was coaching in the NFL, he was always bragging about his grandsons,” said Mike, who played at Sweetwater and now is an assistant coach at West Hills. “I would send him videotapes and he would make his players or other coaches watch them before meetings.”
In the 1998 season, Ryan and Mike were on the field at Qualcomm Stadium after a game when Wayne introduced Ryan to some Chargers players and coaches.
“One of them said, ‘So you’re the one he makes us watch films of before we watch our films,’ ” said Ryan, grinning.
Ryan knows size will limit his college opportunities, but he hopes someone identifies his quickness and football instincts so he can earn a Division I-A scholarship opportunity. Oregon and Colorado have sent letters, but Nevada has shown the most interest so far. Ryan also has contacted Hawaii.
“I like Hawaii because of (coach) June Jones and the offense they run,” Ryan said. “It’s similar to our offense, and Hawaii has had 5-6 guys play for them. They said they would start a file on me.”
West Hills, the defending Grossmont North League champion, opened its season Sept. 2 in Hawaii with a 41-13 win over Weimai in Kuahi.
The Sevier brothers are just beginning to understand their grandfather’s prominence in San Diego football and to recognize not everybody has a grandfather with Super Bowl rings. Wayne was widely considered one of the NFL’s best special teams coaches while with Gibbs in Washington.
Wayne’s Super Bowl rings are from the 1982 season when the Redskins beat the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII at the Rose Bowl and the 1991 season when the Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI at Minnesota.
“I remember watching the Buffalo game,” said Ryan, who was then 5-years-old. “I was lying on my back at my aunt’s house watching my grandpa on TV standing next to Joe Gibbs.”
Robby Sevier also is keeping the Sevier name alive in San Diego football as the defensive backs coach at Poway.
“The last day we were all together we were at a game,” Mike said. “That’s what my Dad enjoyed.”
Tom Shanahan can be contacted at 619-699-2334 or email@example.com.