TAMPA, Fla. — From an early glance, Washington basketball coach Lorenzo Romar knew this tower could provide power.
From a player’s focus to a coach’s eyes, Romar saw Austin Seferian-Jenkins balance football and basketball with a rare combination of smarts and skill.
"His tenacity on the boards, his physicality, right away gave us a lift when he joined," Romar told FOXSportsFlorida.com.
It’s rare that players enter the NFL with two-sport backgrounds in college. But Seferian-Jenkins, all 6-foot-5, 260 pounds of him at tight end, is one of two members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Triple Towers that will report to training camp July 25 with such a perspective: Wide receiver Vincent Jackson played basketball at Northern Colorado.
The native of Fox Island, Washington, earned 19 points, 36 rebounds, three steals and two blocks in 122 minutes over 17 games for the Huskies as a freshman during the 2011-12 season.
That was before Seferian-Jenkins became the Bucs’ second-round pick, 38th overall, in May. That was before he blossomed into the 2013 John Mackey Award winner. That was before he became a two-time second-team All-Pac-12 Conference selection (in 2012 and 2013) and earned 146 catches for 1,840 yards and 21 touchdowns throughout his college career.
"It helps me so much, being able to play basketball at a high level, adjusting to the ball in the air, quick feet, quick hands and all of that stuff definitely translates to playing tight end in the National Football League," Seferian-Jenkins said.
Romar noticed the attributes, too. A connection with Seferian-Jenkins was formed early. One of the player’s requests during the recruiting process was that he wanted a chance to participate in both football and basketball wherever he enrolled. Romar, Washington’s coach since the 2002-03 season, had seen Seferian-Jenkins play basketball as a sophomore at Gig Harbor High School.
The mutual interest was there. The familiarity was present, too. So when Seferian-Jenkins inked with then-coach Steve Sarkisian’s football program, he made a point to seek out the Huskies’ hoops squad as well.
"It was something he asked before he even committed to Washington: Would he have an opportunity to come out and play basketball?" Romar said. "And we said, ‘Absolutely.’ I had seen him play enough, and there was no problem with it. When football season ended, when he was a freshman, that’s what he did."
Seferian-Jenkins entered the opportunity without reservation. He told the Seattle Times in January 2012, "You can get hurt walking outside on the street. No one can predict the future. If I get hurt, I get hurt but I’m not going to think or play like I’ve got to be careful." Then-junior co-captain Abdul Gaddy told the newspaper that he found the situation "a little surprising."
But Seferian-Jenkins turned the surprise into a seamless transition. He made a positive impression off the bench, showing that his talent could translate between seasons.
Romar credited Seferian-Jenkins for being physical. He enjoyed how Seferian-Jenkins had no hesitation about diving on the floor for loose balls. The coach respected Seferian-Jenkins’ touch with possession, and the player could finish around the rim.
"It was a seamless transition for him," Romar said. "He watched. He picked up things fairly quickly. He was already in decent shape, having played football and being a receiver. As a tight end, he did a fair amount of running already. So it was an easy transition, I thought.
"He did what we wanted him to do. He was ready to just help in any way he could. We needed help on the boards and inside, and that’s what he did. He provided that for us. He could also bang with the opposing team’s big players and kind of keep them away from the rim."
Seferian-Jenkins’ double-dip was short-lived, of course. In January 2013, he announced that he would forgo joining the basketball team so he could focus on school work and become rested for the following football season. A sprained left ankle sustained against Oregon the previous October had affected him as well.
But Romar continued to follow Seferian-Jenkins from afar in the player’s rise from someone with potential to one of the country’s best tight ends. The attributes that impressed Bucs coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht since the most recent winter had become apparent on Washington’s hardwood much earlier: The size, the skill, the ability to adapt, no matter the situation or environment.
"A guy you couldn’t pass up," Smith said.
"He ran in the mid 4.5’s (40-yard dash) for us, a couple of weeks ago" Licht said after Seferian-Jenkins was drafted. "Not only is (he) very athletic and can catch, but he can run for a big guy too."
It’s understood why it has become rare to find players with dual-sport backgrounds in college like Seferian-Jenkins. A concentration on a single sport has become the norm. In many cases, that’s the time-tested way to place a promising athlete on a path to a potential professional career.
But Seferian-Jenkins matured into an exception to the trend. Romar became witness to it all. For a coach who saw the player’s tenacity translate from the football field to the hardwood, the encounter was a pleasure.
"It was fun following him when he played football – to go to the games and watch him," Romar said. "It was great to see all the accolades he received, to see him play a part in the football program emerging. And then to ultimately see him get drafted, you knew that was his goal. Those are some things he talked about, so it was fun seeing all of it."