Home is Where the Heart Is

Nov. 1, 2001

by Gina Gray

Home is where the heart is.

It's a saying rooted in an idea of family support, inspiration, and the unique closeness of family bonds. Perhaps no one has benefited more from those ideals than senior wide receiver Todd Elstrom.

Elstrom's football career began in the small town of Puyallup, Wash., a town whose main export of late has been college football players, including former Huskies Brock and Damon Huard, Billy Joe Hobert, and Dane Looker, as well as current Arizona quarterback Jason Johnson.

Like many other young football players growing up in Puyallup, Elstrom began his career as a Rough Rider, the premier local Pee-Wee team. While playing on the Rough Riders, Elstrom had dreams and aspirations of making it big, just like every other young boy who watches his favorite football player on TV. However, he never imagined that one day his dream would come true.

'I always wanted to play football, but I never thought it would escalate to this level. Every young boy dreams about making it at a big-time University and it's kind of crazy that mine came true, ' Elstrom says. 'After college every young player wants to be able to make it to the pros. It's strange, but that goal isn't so far-fetched anymore. It's amazing.'

The six-foot-three, 200-pound Elstrom realizes that he gained valuable skills and opportunities from his small-town upbringing. He learned that hard work and determination really do pay off, and that humbleness is the key to success.

'Being in a small town provided a comfort zone and that was definitely a plus,' he says. 'I learned that I have a passion for the game, and I try to display that every time I play. I also realized that you can't let things get over your head, because that's when you get in trouble. There is a difference between confidence and arrogance.'

As the only receiver returning at the start of the 2000 season who had made a catch the previous year, Elstrom was forced to take on a leadership role, and put his hometown lessons to use. The veteran responded with a team-leading 47 catches, tied for the eighth-most in Husky football history. His 683 yards receiving also led the team, and his three touchdowns, not including an acrobatic score in the Huskies 34-24 Rose Bowl win over Purdue, tied for second.

In addition, Elstrom caught at least one ball in every game the Huskies played in 2000, extending a streak of consecutive games with a reception that through this season's Arizona State game had reached 26 straight.

With a wealth of young talent at the position again in 2001, Elstrom's position as a leader has carried over to the current season.

'I took on the leadership role last year because I was the only guy who had caught a pass in a game,' he recalls. 'This year, the younger players respect me and turn to me when they have a problem. On the other hand, I continue to look to other players for improvement, to see what I can do better. That is how our team is, everyone is always looking out for every else's best interest, not just our own.'

Taking on the leadership role is no problem for Elstrom, because his actions speak louder than his words. Just two days prior to the Huskies' dramatic Rose Bowl win, Elstrom was hit in a non-contact drill at practice, and suffered a sprain to his media collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee. The injury would likely have sidelined a lesser player, but Elstrom knew that his team was counting on him in this, the biggest of games.

'I was shocked when it happened,' he says. ' But this was the Rose Bowl, and I would probably have done anything to play in that game. I have the mentality that I want to be involved and contribute to the cause no matter what.'

Wearing a brace to protect the knee from impact, Elstrom played from the start, outleaping a Purdue defender for the third-quarter touchdown that turned out to be the winning score.

Elstrom's efforts have been recognized by teammates and coaches alike. He was the Huskies' offensive MVP with two catches for 61 yards in the win over Miami, and earned KING-TV Most Improved Offensive Player honors before his sophomore season.

The small-town player who once dreamed of playing at the collegiate level credits his success to his family, as well as to those that doubted him throughout his career.

'What inspired me the most was people telling me I couldn't do it, the doubters,' he says. 'Last year, the receivers were called the weakest link of the team, and towards the end of the season, we were a real strength. People that are negative and don't have positive things to say motivate and inspire me to become a better person and football player.'

Mostly though, Elstrom finds strength in his family ties.

'My parents inspire me as well, they encourage me to work hard,' he says. 'They have always supported me throughout my career and that motivates me to do my best. One reason I decided to come to UW was so my parents could come to all of my games and watch me play. Every now and then I'll have a bad game and they'll be there telling me that it's going to be all right.'

That Elstrom draws his inspiration from his family is no surprise given the values instilled in him as a youth in the quaint Puyallup community. The close-knit bonds formed in those years between Elstrom and those around him carried over to the loyal family he found at UW. As is his custom, Elstrom bonded quickly with fellow Huskies Wilbur Hooks, Jerramy Stevens, Patrick Reddick, and Geoff Shelton. The five share a home and a close friendship.

'We spend a lot of time together,' Elstrom says. 'All of the guys and their parents together form a small family. We are a close-knit bunch. It makes it a lot easier when things aren't going well to know that you have a support group, which our parents provide.'

As his last game at Washington draws near, Elstrom catches himself reflecting often on his experiences over the past four year. He knows that the there will come a time when he will run through the tunnel for the last time and be able to see 75, 000 screaming fans packed into Husky Stadium.

'I know I'll come back, watch, and wish I were out there playing,' he says. 'I am going to miss it. It was a period in my life that I will reflect back on and be able to say that I had no regrets. This is stepping-stone to something else. It was a great experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world.'

The small-town football player from Puyallup knows that home is indeed where the heart is. From the Rough Riders to the Puyallup Vikings and now the prestigious Huskies, Elstrom is living proof that sometimes, dreams do come true.

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