Not long ago, Rich Seubert stood alongside Eli Manning and Michael Strahan as a player in the NFL.
Now, the former Super Bowl champion is a first-year offensive line coach at Mission Prep, where the football team is off to a 6-0 start and stands atop the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division rankings.
Seubert retired two years ago after a successful 10-year career with the New York Giants, primarily as an offensive lineman. He also had stints on special teams and as a tight end.
Though linemen typically don’t get the credit that players in other positions do, New York general manager Jerry Reese called Seubert the MVP of the team in 2010, his final season.
Seubert, now 33, stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs more than 300 pounds.
He offers a rare opportunity for local high school players to learn from a pro.
Seubert moved to San Luis Obispo from New Jersey with his family in December after visiting his friend and financial adviser who lives locally, deciding it was a good place to settle with his wife and three young children.
Seubert was introduced to Mission Prep athletic director Bailey Brown and head football coach Chad Henry and he threw out the idea of coaching. They readily took him on.
“He was able to come in and form a bond with players immediately,” Henry said. “He relates to players extremely well. He’s an O-line coach who’s an O-line guy.”
For Seubert, the chance to be around the game he loves and to help kids is an opportunity he relishes.
“Having fun is the most important,” Seubert said. “If I wasn’t having fun coaching, I wouldn’t be doing it. If you don’t like doing something, you’ll have a miserable life. This is exciting.”
Similar to Mission Prep, Seubert attended a small Catholic school in Wisconsin. There he played on the football, basketball and track teams before playing football collegiately at Western Illinois.
Each year of college he grew larger, gaining 20 or 30 pounds through weightlifting and diet.
A pro scouting event held in his area his senior year led to his NFL tryout with the Giants.
PRO PLAYING DAYS
Seubert made the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2001.
“If you would have told me back in high school that I was going to play in the NFL, I would have told you that you were crazy,” Seubert said. “But I worked hard. My parents pushed me. I loved playing the game.”
As a rookie, he learned to handle adversity quickly after giving up back-to-back sacks in a game.
“I came off the field and coach was asking me what happened and I had no idea,” Seubert said. “I wanted to crawl up into a ball and hide. But you can’t. You have to buckle your chin strap and go play because everybody’s counting on you. You try to learn from your mistakes and not to let them happen again.”
Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, one of the NFL’s top pass rushers of all time, helped Seubert develop his game.
In practice one day, Seubert was assigned to block Strahan on a play-action pass. Strahan threw him aside about “10 feet” like a rag doll.
“I got up, he looked at me, and he told me ‘to stay low, keep your eyes up,’” Seubert said. “We went at each other, but he also wanted to help make me a better player. He was a great team leader. When he spoke people listened to him, I got all the respect for him.”
Seubert said that Giants coach Tom Coughlin was a tough-as-nails coach but someone he admires tremendously, calling him a great family man and coach.
Coughlin seemed to appreciate Seubert as a blue-collar worker.
The lineman was known to get into scuffles because of his competitiveness, a fire which he transferred well to gamedays.
“Especially at that level, if you can’t play hard on every play, there’s something wrong with you,” Seubert said. “(Coughlin) should be upset with you.”
BAD PLAYOFF CALL, SUPER BOWL WIN
To this day, a blown call involving Seubert comes up when referees are at the center of controversy. In a 2002 NFC playoff game against the 49ers, the Giants squandered a 24-point lead but had the chance to kick a game-winning field goal.
The snap was botched and Seubert rolled out as an eligible receiver, after reporting to an official as such. But before he had a chance to grab the pass, he was pulled down by 49ers defender Chike Okeafor.
Instead of pass interference, an official inaccurately penalized him for being an ineligible receiver, ending the game.
“I can say now (without getting fined), that call was not good,” Seubert said. “Those are the ones you remember. We were on a roll that season. We had a good chance and then whoosh.”
Seubert might still be playing on Sundays, but he dislocated his kneecap in his final game in 2010, the second major injury of his pro career after shattering his leg in 2003 and missing the rest of that season and the entire 2004 season. The Giants released him in 2011.
“I pretty much knew I was done and they knew the same thing,” Seubert said. “It was hard for a couple of days. But I knew I couldn’t play football anymore, so why stick around?”
In his retirement, Seubert watched from afar as the Giants went on to win another Super Bowl last year.
Seubert still talks to quarterback Eli Manning, sometimes chatting by phone after games.
“I love Eli,” Seubert said of the star quarterback. “I liked everybody on the team. Everybody got along. Many of us still keep in touch.”
Seubert was part of one of the most historic wins in Super Bowl history in Super Bowl XLII after the 2007 season — a 17-14 win highlighted by the famous David Tyree catch against his helmet.
Seubert recalled the sweetness of the victory in particular because of how it happened, winning 11 straight games to defeat the unbeaten New England Patriots in a thriller. The Giants barely made the playoffs and then won three road playoff games to reach the Super Bowl.
“We came together as a team and played for each other,” Seubert said. “Any team, any business, anywhere in life, if you work for each other and for the good of the organization, good things happen. Winning it in New York, I don’t think there’s a city that loves their team more.”
A photo of Seubert holding his young son with a beaming smile in a shower of confetti revealed that joy.
Does he miss his days of playing in the NFL? Does he pine for the limelight of professional sports and celebrity? If so, it doesn’t show.
HELPING SHAPE MISSION PREP
Henry, a former Cal Poly quarterback in the 1990s and now Mission Prep’s head coach, said that Seubert has helped give the Royals’ offensive line a sense of cohesiveness in addition to much-improved technique.
“I’m much better obviously with working with quarterbacks and their skills,” Henry said. “With Rich, now they have their guy. He has helped give them an identity and he’s made it cool to be an offensive lineman.”
The Royals are primed for a state bowl game berth if they continue winning.
The success can partly be attributed to a well-balanced running and passing game helped by solid protection from the line.
“Our offensive line has been the single biggest improvement from last year,” Henry said.
Under Henry’s philosophy and alongside Mission Prep’s nine other coaches with football playing experience in college, Seubert runs drills with players similar to a college program, practicing timing on snaps and positioning on blocks.
Their grit has helped quarterback Tyler Baty average 228 yards passing per game. Running back Michael Cardwell is averaging 116 yards per contest.
The Royals have had only one close game — a 26-14 win over View Park in Los Angeles two weeks ago.
Offensive lineman Garrett Smiley said that Seubert’s coaching has turned the line’s play around dramatically.
“My game has taken a 180-degree turn from where it was last year,” Smiley said. “Coach Rich is patient, supportive, and we trust that he knows what he’s talking about. He makes things easy to remember.”
Smiley, a 6-3, 240 pound guard, admits that he brags that his coach is a former NFL player. But the line also feels a sense of responsibility not to let Seubert down.
Joking that he probably couldn’t block Seubert very well, Smiley said he may be able to beat him in a different kind of competition.
“I could take him in a foot race,” Smiley said.
As for his advice to high school players and parents, Seubert is the first to acknowledge that not everybody can be an NFL player.
But he encourages high school athletes to participate in as many sports as they choose, finding it too limiting to focus on one in hopes of college or pro stardom.
“You go to high school, you go to college, to get an education because the odds are stacked against you to make the NFL,” Seubert said. “Education is number one — first and foremost. At the same time, I couldn’t imagine going to school and not playing ball.”