Viewpoint Sebastian pushing through after losing brother to cancer
CHESHIRE — Craig Sebastian will climb into his car early Saturday morning in West Haven and drive the nearly 150 miles to Hun School in Princeton, N.J. His wife Mayra will head in the other direction 135 miles for Boston College.
This is football season and these are the kinds of things football parents do every fall.
“We’re so close as a family and football is a huge part of our life,” Craig Sebastian said. “It’s a year-round thing for us. I played. I coached. Jordan played. He coached. The two boys have played since they were 5. Uncles, nephews; it’s a way of life. We’ve always had football.”
So Craig will go see Bryce — the dynamic 5-foot-9, 160-pound wide receiver everyone calls “Bug” — play for Cheshire Academy. Bryce is headed to BC next year and that’s where Brandon, a 6-1, 185-pound redshirt freshman, already plays defensive back. Mayra will watch Brandon play against Holy Cross.
“I’ve always told the boys, ‘I can’t wait to see you play Saturday!’ ” Craig said. “That’s my thing.”
Yet something is different, profoundly different this football season. Craig and Liz Johnston push on with the rest of their lives after the death of their oldest son. Jordan was a star at Hopkins. A running back, he got a full scholarship to play at Rhode Island and when he graduated he returned to Hopkins as a basketball coach and football defensive coordinator. He nearly completed his master’s degree when he was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in March 2017. By October he was gone. Jordan Sebastian was 24.
“It’s hard,” Craig said. “It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.”
“It has been rough,” Bryce said. “I just think about how would he want me to feel. I know he wouldn’t want me to hold my head down. He’d want me to go out there and play. So that’s want I’m going to do.”
Things happen so fast in life, especially for the young, Craig was saying. Here was Jordan, smart, tough, full of life, a genuine teammate.
“The next thing you know their brother is gone,” Craig said. “They were in the middle of the season. They didn’t really have time to react to it like other people would. They had so much going on, this kind of threw their whole world into a tailspin
“From there they did have some time to reflect on everything. They’ve struggled with it. They’ve grown from it. They’ve become much more mature. It has definitely been hard for everybody. Everyone loved Jordan. He’s such a special person. He was the big brother that Brandon, Bryce, Brianna — she might be the most competitive one in the house — all looked up to.”
Each of the boys plays a different brand of football. So different, Craig said, it’s hard to compare them. Jordan played with power. He was a thumper. Brandon, rated fifth in the state by 247Sports.com in 2017, is the speed guy, fastest in a straight line. Bryce, ranked seventh by 247 in a deep 2019 class, is the smallest, but most electric.
“I got wiggle,” Bryce said.
Yeah, Bug has lots of wiggle.
“I’ve had the opportunity to coach a lot of good ones here,” said Cheshire Academy’s Dave Dykeman, who has had 63 players go on to college football since 2012. “Bryce has unbelievable character, respectful and kind. As an athlete he’s as quick and explosive a kid as I’ve ever been around. He’s competitive. That’s the family trait. Brandon — same way when I coached him here. They want to be the best.”
Their secret was to be found on the summer days when other kids were at the beach or the pool. The boys gravitated to football, and that’s what Craig knew best. He played at Southern Connecticut and coached youth and high school.
“We’d be on the field, training in the summer,” Craig said. “The three of them were out there, 90 degrees, sweating, and literally there would no one else there. I’d ask the kids, ‘Who’s around? Nobody. This is what will separate you as you get older.’ ”
Craig would pass the baton.
“Jordan got into college, we’d still go out to the field all the time, but I’d let Jordan take care of the guys. Now he’s the one. He had the new techniques. I’d sit back and video. Jordan would do everything. You see the boys develop and have some success, man, it’s a blessing.”
It is a blessing two brothers count often now.
“We reminisce all the time about Jordan,” Bryce said. “In some ways, I didn’t realize how much impact he had on us until he was gone. It’s kind of unfortunate. That saying, ‘You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,’ it’s true. Yeah, we were out there in 95 degrees in July. Nobody else. People see the glory. They don’t see the grind.”
Bryce was preparing to leave on the team bus for New Jersey later Friday for an 11 a.m. game Saturday against Hun. A business trip, he called it. Maryland, Syracuse, UConn and Howard offered him scholarships. Like Brandon, he chose Boston College. BC wants him to be a slot receiver, Bug said, in the mold of Jeff Smith.
Dykeman said he loves the idea of the Sebastian brothers and another Cheshire Academy grad, C.J. Lewis, playing together on Chestnut Hill.
“I know it will be easier for my family to see us play at the same time,” Bug said. “We only got to play with each other in high school for one year. It was a good feeling to be on the same field as him. I told him it wouldn’t be the last time. And that’s what happened.”
Mom and Dad, stepparents, kids from both sides, the extended family, Jordan’s closest friend Dante Brito — they hurt something awful last October, last football season. No one should be lost at 24. And now they push on together.
“That family rallies together,” Dykeman said. “They support each other. Bryce will forever feel the loss. That was his big brother. He looked up to him. But he has a network of people around him, his family, his community, that cares and looks out for him. They will keep Jordan’s memory alive.”
His kids have this notion, Craig said, that they are going to make sure they live up not only to their expectations, but to Jordan’s.
“Jordan was relentless in everything he did,” Craig said. “They want to make big brother proud. It is their motivating force.”
So Craig drives one way on Saturday morning and Mayra drives the other way. Come next year, though, they’ll drive together to Boston College. Surely, Jordan will be in the back seat somewhere, smiling, demanding. There’ll be a game on Saturday and the Sebastian family will be there.