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Wednesday, July 3, 2013
My path to the pros

By Sarah Turcotte
ESPN The Magazine

Jay Feely
As a kid, Feely's main sport was soccer, but he also played volleyball, basketball and baseball.

The beginning

We're a very athletic family. My grandfather coached basketball at St. Thomas in Minneapolis for 26 years. He's in the college basketball hall of fame. And my dad was a high school football coach, so I played everything growing up -- soccer, baseball, basketball. I was shooting on a regulation hoop from the time I was walking. We lived in Minneapolis until I was 10, and my best sports there were wrestling and gymnastics. I was a national champion gymnast in third grade. I could've gone to worlds, but it was like $5,000 and my parents were like, "No, we're not paying for that." When we moved down to Florida, I stopped playing both sports. I don't think there was actually a reason. I was so young, I didn't think about "quitting" a sport; I just focused on new ones.

The middle school days

In Florida, I played on a travel soccer team, the Temple Terrace Spirit, which won four state championships from [when I was in] fifth to eighth grade. So soccer was my main sport, but I played everything else: volleyball, basketball, baseball. So many kids now focus on one sport. They try to become specialized -- or their parents want them to. One of the best things about my childhood was playing every sport. It helped me develop total body awareness. I had this conversation recently with the golfer Aaron Baddeley. He played multiple sports growing up and didn't focus on golf until his late teens. He credits that background with much of his success. I want my kids to play everything and love it. Without naming names, I have teammates who can't throw a ball. They're too specialized.

The high school years

At age 7, I played Pee Wee football, but there was no contact or anything. I didn't pick the sport back up until ninth grade [Tampa (Fla.) Jesuit High]. I've always loved the sport, and it seemed like a good balance with soccer. I started playing wide receiver and cornerback, and one day a coach said, "Who can kick?" I decide to try it out, and I could kick far and accurate because of my soccer background. We didn't have camps or kicking coaches back then. You just figured it out. My special teams and wide receivers coach, Robert Weiner, told me to focus on kicking.

The question for me was whether to play soccer or football in college. We won the national championship in soccer when we were 17, and then went over to Europe and beat teams like Manchester United and the Glasgow Rangers in our age group. So I thought soccer would be my sport in college, but I got some offers in football first. I took trips to Delaware and Wyoming -- which recruited me as a receiver -- and then Michigan and Notre Dame, who wanted me to play kicker. I ended up accepting the offer to Michigan. I didn't even take any soccer trips; I knew I had the best opportunity for a scholarship in football and took it.

More rising stars retrace their paths to the pros:

Maya Gabeira | Paul Goldschmidt | Brandon Jennings | Cam Newton | Jozy Altidore | Ashton Eaton | Maya Moore | Michael Crabtree | Ian Kinsler | C.J. Wilson | Nnamdi Asomugha | Bernard Pollard | Richard Seymour | Michelle Wie | Brittany Lincicome | Gordon Hayward | DeMarcus Cousins | Matt Flynn | Jairus Byrd | Rey Maualuga | Domata Peko | Le'Ron McClain | Glen Perkins | Jeff Halpern | Jay Feely

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