Early Christmas for North Bend Seahawks fan
December 5, 2012
By Michele Mihalovich
There are Seattle Seahawks fans, and then there are SEAHAWKS fans. The type of men who live, eat and breathe Seahawks. The type of men who lose sleep or go into a deep depression when the Seahawks finish the season with an embarrassing NFL losing streak. Such is the case of A.J. Carstens.
Chances are Carstens, a 29-year-old man with Down syndrome, has sacked your groceries at the Safeway in North Bend. Maybe you noticed he was in an exceptionally good mood, but didn’t know it was because Seattle had won a game that Sunday. Or maybe you noticed he was in a funk, but didn’t know it was because quarterback Matt Hasselbeck left for greener pastures.
But his stepfather, Chuck DePue, knew his moods.
“He was massively dedicated to Matt Hasselbeck, and when he left, A.J. was devastated,” he said. “He’s like any football fan. When your team’s going down the tank, he gets upset. I had to sit him down and talk to him.”
DePue gave A.J. hope when he said the new coach, Pete Carroll, hired in 2010, was going to turn things around for the Seahawks.
And things have been looking up for the Seattle team, which made A.J. Carroll’s biggest fan.
How about a Seahawks jersey, A.J.?
“Sure,” he said.
How about a jersey of the hotshot new quarterback Russell Wilson, or veteran playmaker Marshawn Lynch?
DePue said Carstens insisted on a Carroll jersey.
“We tried to explain to him that Carroll was the coach and didn’t have a jersey … didn’t have a number,” DePue said. “A.J. didn’t care. He wanted a Carroll jersey, so we went out and had a special jersey made with the coach’s name on the back.”
Carstens has been working out at Mount Si Sports and Fitness, and dropped 60 pounds in the hopes of getting in shape enough to try out for the team, DePue said.
Every night before bed, A.J. says a 20-minute prayer for the Seahawks.
“Dear God, help Pete be stronger. Help Pete be smarter. Help Pete be wiser,” DePue said about the prayer. “He just says that over and over again until he figures he’s said it enough. I interrupted him once and that was not good.”
DePue knew he had to do something special for his “rabid” Seahawks fan. He dreamed of A.J., who graduated from Mount Si High School in 2001, getting to meet his hero, but just didn’t know how to make it happen.
Turns out, DePue works for Abbot Construction in Seattle, and Abbot Construction does work for Vulcan Enterprises, a company owned by Seahawks owner Paul Allen.
DePue said he told the president of Abbot about his stepson, and the president was touched by the story. He said the president knew a guy who knew a guy, and the next thing ya know, the president called DePue on Nov. 29 and said “it” was going to happen the next day.
The family was going to get to go the Seahawks’ practice field in Renton to meet the players — and most importantly, Coach Carroll — before the team flew to Chicago for the Dec. 2 Bears game.
Keeping the big surprise a secret from A.J. for 24 hours was going to be difficult, DePue said. But he managed.
The moment DePue, A.J.’s mom Collette and 10-year-old stepbrother Jacob pulled up in the parking lot and told A.J. who he was about to meet, his face lit up into a giant smile and he kept telling everyone, “I am fired up,” DePue said.
A.J. tossed the ball with a couple of players who towered over him, shared Skittles with Lynch and hobnobbed with Wilson.
But DePue said the highlight of the day was when the coach came up to A.J., signed the back of the infamous Carroll jersey and the two of them walked around the practice field for a private conversation.
“It was just unbelievable, so exciting to fulfill A.J.’s dream,” DePue said. “And I was so impressed with the coach.”
A.J. told the Star that he and Carroll chatted about wide receiver Golden Tate and talked strategy for Sunday’s game.
And whatever A.J. said to the coach must have worked because the Seahawks beat the Bears, 23-17, in overtime.
Michele Mihalovich: 392-6434, ext. 246, or firstname.lastname@example.org.