Sunday, April 21, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seahawks put faith in Huskies' Stevens

Seattle Times staff reporter

KIRKLAND — Never had Mike Holmgren deliberated a draft decision for so long, and even after months of personal debate, it is still too early to discern whether the Seahawks coach/general manager made the correct decision.

Never had he sat down and talked so much with a collegiate prospect as he did with Jerramy Stevens, the former Washington tight end with a glowing football résumé and reprehensible acts of stupidity.

And after their hour-long discussion earlier this month, Holmgren still wasn't convinced.

So he spoke with UW Coach Rick Neuheisel and Stevens' parents. He even spoke with his own family — his wife, Kathy, and two of his four daughters.

Such is the dilemma surrounding Stevens, making Holmgren's decision to select him with the first pick in yesterday's NFL draft even more controversial.

"I have never done what I did today since I've been in professional football," Holmgren said. "My typical reaction to someone who has got jammed up a little, as he did, was to take them off the (draft) board.

"I was just talking to his folks, and I was talking to my family, and I asked them: 'Why is he still on the board? Why am I doing this?' I had never done it before."

Holmgren was forced to gamble on Stevens in large part because the Seahawks' early attempts to move up in the draft were foiled. They dangled their first, second and third picks, but no one wanted to make a deal, and that forced Seattle to swap its first-round pick (20th overall) to Green Bay for the 28th overall choice.

The Seahawks were hoping to land Daniel Graham, but New England selected the Colorado tight end with the 21st pick, which prompted them to re-examine Stevens.

Few inside their draft room questioned his football ability. They marveled at his 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame and tenacity on the field. They spoke with UW offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson, Stevens' position coach, who had been a Seahawks assistant in 1997-98.

Gilbertson, who coached the Seattle tight ends, gave this advice: "If you have a chance to get Jerramy, then get him. Physically, he's as good as anyone over there."

Seahawks' draft picks

Rd. Name Pos. School
1 Jerramy Stevens TE Washington
2 Maurice Morris RB Oregon
2 Anton Palepoi DE UNLV
3 Kris Richard CB USC
But Stevens' character was a concern for a Seahawks team that has recently made significant strides to re-connect with a declining fan base.

A year ago, Holmgren gambled with the team's first draft pick and selected receiver Koren Robinson, who hadn't been a diligent student and dealt with habitual tardiness at North Carolina State.

But Stevens' off-field troubles were far more egregious.

Aside from a fourth-degree assault charge that stemmed from a high-school fight, the 22-year-old's rap sheet includes a guilty plea last year for a misdemeanor hit-and-run as well as suspicion of sexual assault that led to his arrest two years ago.

After a three-month investigation, the King County Prosecutor's Office declined to press charges, but the stigma remained. And the questions continued.

"I've had people (ask me) what type of person is he?" said his father, Bob Stevens. "I tell them that Jerramy is a good kid. He's like any other kid that makes mistakes.

"If we take a look at everybody here, we've all made mistakes, but we haven't had our laundry in public like he has. ... Part of the public life is 'How do I handle that?' because Jerramy is going to be under the microscope."

Stevens' arrival overshadowed Seattle's other first-day picks and reduced the selection of Oregon running back Maurice Morris (a second round) to a side note. The Seahawks also chose UNLV defensive end Anton Palepoi in the second round and USC cornerback Kris Richard in the third.

But years from now, this draft will be remembered for Stevens and the decisions that led Holmgren to disregard his original instincts.

"I really believe in him as a football player, first of all," Holmgren said. "People make mistakes. We all do. This is the first time I have ever done this, and it wasn't just the fact that I saw a good football player.

"Something in our conversation, something that day clicked for me. I felt I understood as best I could the situation and the young man a little bit."

What also convinced Holmgren was talking to Stevens' parents, who accompanied him at his first Seahawks news conference. His father is a teacher at Nisqually Middle School, and his mother, Fran, is an assistant principal at North Mason Middle School in Belfair.

Stevens left school with a year of eligibility remaining but is scheduled to graduate from Washington with a degree in ethnic studies in June. He spent many days last year at a downtown Seattle homeless shelter to complete 240 hours of community service after the driving incident.

"I haven't had a turning point or anything like that in my life, but it's been more of a gradual process," Stevens said. "Part of it was being at the (homeless) shelter. For me, it was seeing the other side of things.

"I feel like I've been blessed with a really great family, I've been blessed with athletic ability and a whole bunch of opportunity. And I know it took me too long to realize this, but I just didn't want to blow it all and waste everything.

"I guess that's growing up."


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