GOOD NEWS TAB -- PART I
LAKE MILLS, Iowa (AP) -- Mike Stensrud has come full circle.
Stensrud went from the family farm in Lake Mills to football stardom at Iowa State, from ISU to 11 years in the NFL and from there to life as a retired athlete in Houston.
Now he's back in Lake Mills, where he always felt most comfortable. And he still wonders how it all happened.
``Why I ended up being a pro football player, I don't know,'' Stensrud said during a break from his job at a lumber yard earlier this year. ``Funny how things change in your life.''
Stensrud wouldn't have played in the NFL if he hadn't gone to Iowa State. And he almost didn't do that, even though his brother, Maynard, already was playing there and Earle Bruce was offering a full-ride scholarship.
``I was helping my uncle and I was thinking about going into farming with him,'' Stensrud said.
Farming had always been in Stensrud's blood. As a youngster, he baled hay, castrated pigs and did whatever else he could to help out on his father's farm south of Lake Mills. At the time, it was all he could think of doing.
So why did he end up at Iowa State?
``My dad talked me into going to school,'' he said.
Dad's persuasiveness changed his son's life.
Stensrud became an all-Big Eight Conference defensive tackle at Iowa State, helping the Cyclones reach the Peach Bowl in 1977 and Hall of Fame Bowl in 1978. The Houston Oilers took Stensrud in the second round of the 1979 draft.
He signed for $30,000.
``I know I could make the same money in two years now that I made in 11 then,'' said Stensrud, who retired from the NFL in 1989. ``But you can't look back and have regrets. I did the best I could and played four times the length of the average player.''
It was a good career. Houston reached the playoffs twice during Stensrud's seven seasons there. He also had stints with Tampa Bay and Kansas City before finishing his playing days in Washington.
Stensrud played with and against some of the biggest names in the game. He even had the distinction of being tackled by running back Tony Dorsett. That happened after Stensrud intercepted a pass against Dallas. He ran 65 yards before Dorsett caught him.
But through it all, he realized he was just doing a job. A better job than many people have, but a job nonetheless. Don't even think of calling him a hero.
``Television glamorizes football way more than what it is,'' he said. ``I tried the whole time I was in football to keep level-headed about it, even though, to my shame, I didn't always do that.
``I really think it's sad the way people idolize sports figures and entertainment figures. They aren't heroes and I never considered myself a hero. The guys I played with were just guys who got a chance to play pro football.''
That attitude has its roots in Stensrud's youth.
``I never grew up idolizing football,'' he said. ``My dad farmed and that's all I really looked forward to doing.
``People think it's strange, but we never even had a television until I was a sophomore in high school. And the only reason we got one was because my dad broke his ankle and was stuck in the house.''
Stensrud earned all-state honors as a high school senior at Lake Mills in 1973 and dominated on both sides of the ball as the Bulldogs went 8-0 his junior year.
Even so, Stensrud's reluctance to become consumed by the game was apparent.
``He was a lot larger than anybody, but he didn't want to be a standout,'' said Chuck Nichols, Stensrud's coach at Lake Mills. ``He just wanted to be one of the guys.
``Football wasn't his whole life. He would hit people, but I don't think he got a lotta joy out of it.''
Stensrud and his family lived in Houston for a while after his playing days ended. Eventually, his wife, Laura, suggested a move back to Lake Mills and Stensrud agreed, even though he enjoyed living in Texas.
He has settled in nicely. Stensrud works for his brother-in-law, Don Helgeson, at Lake Mills Lumber Co. and this fall, he'll be an assistant football coach at Lake Mills. He'll be coaching his 15-year-old son, Andy, who has Stensrud size -- 6-8, 235 -- and earned first-team all-conference honors in basketball as a freshman last winter.
It's not the big city, but it's not so bad, either.
``As you look at things going on in the world and in our country, it's a great advantage to be where we're at,'' Stensrud said. ``There's just as many things to do around here as in a big city.'' End Adv for Weekend Editions, Aug. 13-14
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