Family Man

Oct. 3, 2001

by Mason Kelley

In the world of sports, everyone wants to win. At times players, coaches and fans become a little too caught up in wins and losses. In a world of competitiveness, Hudky tight end John Westra keeps his focus on his family and friends, using them for motivation to succeed both on and off the football field.

'My family has always revolved around football, wrestling and track season,' the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Mesa, Ariz.-native says. 'No matter what season it was, my parents were always there cheering me on.'

Westra returns the love and support he received from his parents to the family of his own, including wife Haley, a Seattle Seahawks cheerleader, and one-year-old daughter Taylor Marie.

The physically imposing Westra's features soften and his face lights up when discussing his wife and daughter. It is evident that they are the driving forces in his life.

'They are the best,' he says. 'It doesn't matter how school goes or how practice goes, whenever I come home they've got a smile on their face and it makes me feel good.'

Taylor Marie was born on Sept. 2, 2000, as Washington defeated Idaho 44-20 in Husky Stadium, kicking off an eventual Rose Bowl season. That in and of itself is special to Westra.

'The morning of the Idaho game I was at the hospital with Haley delivering my little girl,' he recalls. 'It was quite an experience, we could hear the crowd roaring from the university hospital while she was being born. It was pretty cool.'

Taylor Marie became a bit of a mascot for the big tight end last season, when he affectionately named her the 'Rose Bowl baby,' because to him she was the team's good luck charm.

'She was there for everything and when she gets older she can sit on my lap and I can show her my big fat ring,' he laughs.

Having his family with him for the Rose Bowl was equally special for Westra.

'We took a lot of pictures with Haley and Taylor Marie in front of the stadium. It was great to share it with the two of them.'

Being one of few players on the team with a family of his own, Westra likes to look at himself as someone the rest of the guys on the team can look up to, and come to for advice.

'I always offer to have some of the younger out-of-state guys over for dinner,' he says. 'Unfortunately no one has ever taken me up on it. It is really nice to have someone to cook for you. Being out of state is always hard and I just like to do what I can to help.'

Raising a family while in school can be difficult, but the Westras have an intricately-planned schedule. Haley handles the finances, while John goes to school and plays football. The couple does not believe in day care, so they share in the day-to-day responsibilities of raising a child. Some of that duty falls to roommate and fellow Husky tight end Joe Collier.

The two senior tight ends live together, play football together and even blow out knees together. In 1999, as Washington prepared to host Air Force, Collier blew out his MCL. During the game that Saturday, Westra blew out both his ACL and his MCL.

'I think I jinxed us,' Westra says, 'because I told him that we were the last two players in out class that had not worn the red jersey in practice (indicating injury), and a week later we both go down with injuries.'

The positive to the coincidentally-timed was that the two tight ends were able to push each other through rehab.

'It was nice to have someone to go through the process of rehab with,' Collier explains. 'If there was ever a day that I didn't want to go, John was there to make sure that I made it on time and worked hard.'

The last year has been a memorable one for Westra. He had a baby, recovered from major knee surgery and helped the Huskies return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1993.

'Going to the Rose Bowl is something I have wanted to do since I was a kid and it was everything I imagined it to be and more,' he says.

After Westra graduates he plans to go back to his home state of Arizona to pursue a career as a firefighter. He will cherish the friendships that he made as a Husky, and strive to follow in his parents' footsteps as a supportive father and husband.

Just like that day at the hospital last September, the echoes of cheers may rise and fall, but the love of a family is forever.

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