Mack Strong tells Lynden students about the power of fear, anger

Former Seahawks' FB at Lynden Christian

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 14, 2014 

LYNDEN - Lynden Christian High School's auditorium held hundreds of motionless students trained on a figure standing in front.

As he moved from left to right, right to left, so did their eyes, following along as former Seattle Seahawks fullback Mack Strong paced around in front of the stage speaking into a microphone that looked small in comparison to his muscular 6-foot, 240-plus-pound frame.

He had full grasp of their attention Wednesday morning, May 14, although little of his 35-minute speech had to do with football. He spoke to the students about life lessons and his foundation, Mack Strong Team-Works, and how he, too, once struggled with the rigors of insecurities and fears.

"Out of a class of about 48, I was the only African American," Strong said of his high school experience. "This is the deep south in the mid-'80s, and so I felt very insecure being in my classroom, because I looked around and I didn't see anybody else like me. ... I was so afraid. Man, I was so nervous. I thought everywhere I went people were talking about me."

He asked the auditorium if anyone had felt the same way - feeling awkward and out of place. In unison, nearly every student raised his or her hand.

To hear that coming from a man as revered as Strong caught senior Josh Hornstra.

"It was really cool to see more of his lifestyle," the three-sport athlete said. "We got to see him from afar playing, but to see his actual life - his life story - it was cool to see and cool to hear."

Specifically, Strong spoke to the powerful effects of fear and anger. He didn't speak to the idea of the two, but more so his personal interactions with both.

In an instance, he brought football back to the foreground when he described a trying time in his career when Seattle decided to part ways with the bruising fullback. He was labeled a "salary-cap casualty" in 2000, he said, casting a great deal of doubt over his future. New Orleans swooped in and wanted to sign the then seven-year veteran, offering more money than Seattle did at the time.

"I was ticked off. I felt like I've given my heart, my soul, my effort to this organization," he said. "I felt like I deserved more than they gave me."

His emotions were raw, although time and thought told him he wanted to be a Seahawk.

"I almost made a terrible decision because I was angry," he said. "I got my feelings hurt. I felt disrespected, and instead of handling it like an adult and sitting down and thinking through it, (I) just reacted. I think that's a part of being young is reacting."

Strong tried to relate to the students.

Even for a man as physically domineering as himself, Strong told everyone that he was afraid to get hit - that he was afraid of the violent contact football is founded upon.

"He was scared to get hit - an NFL guy," said Hornstra, who played football for LC. "For us to hear it's fine and to overcome it and have faith in Christ and he'll help us through it, it was nice."

It has been a long-sought mission for Strong and his wife, Zoe Higheagle Strong, dating back to 2002 when they founded Mack Strong Team-Works. Zoe is half Native American, Mack said, and when the two began the process of starting their foundation, they did so with the hope of helping young tribal children in the Puget Sound region be more successful academically.

What began then was something they would see grow far beyond its original intent.

"Strong mind, strong body, strong character," Mack said of the foundation's core philosophy. "I talk a lot about character because that's what's going to get you through in life. ... It really showed how strong some of these kids are, and that the story isn't over, especially in junior high.

"It was just really eye opening to see again and again and again to see these kids felt like people gave up on them."

Middle school-aged children have become a point of emphasis for the foundation given it's a fork-in-the-road time for many, Strong said. Following his retirement from the NFL in 2007, the foundation has been a large influence on he and his family.

For all he did to speak about his foundation and the lessons learned along the way, Strong didn't escape questions on football following Seattle's 2013-14 Super Bowl victory. Having played on the Seahawks' only other Super Bowl team, when they fell to Pittsburgh in 2005, he saw this past season as a way to put the stinging defeat behind them.

"Eight years ago, it was like the worst feeling in the world coming away from that Super Bowl," he said. "I feel like people have carried out that bitterness for a long time, and I think it was a little bit of vindication. I think people are just kind of feeling like champions."

Mack hasn't strayed far from the team, taking a position with Fox Sports Northwest in 2008 as a football analyst.

Reach Alex Bigelow at alex.bigelow@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.

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