MARYSVILLE — When Jakobus Seth announced his commitment to Washington State University, it marked a milestone moment in a football journey that started in an orphanage 3,000 miles from the windswept prairie of the Palouse.
Seth, a standout senior two-way lineman at Lakewood High School, is a three-star recruit ranked by 247sports.com as the 23rd best prospect in the state for the class of 2022.
He was born in Haiti and placed in the orphanage with his sister, Stella, when he was 3 years old. They lived there for nearly three years.
“I mostly just remember it being hard, and it just kind of sucked because of the conditions,” Jakobus said. “We weren’t expecting much of the day-to-day life … just kind of staying within the gates. You did what you could do to pass the time.”
After about six months at the orphanage, Jakobus and his sister were matched with a family looking to adopt. Sena and Jarrod Seth already had three children — two girls and a boy — and were looking for another son. They learned Jakobus had a sister and knew they couldn’t separate the two. In 2007, the Seths flew to Haiti to meet Jakobus and Stella, and they hosted them in a hotel for a week.
On the way to Port-au-Prince, Sena Seth remembered seeing wild goats dining on piles of garbage in the middle of the street.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is the major city of Haiti? This is crazy,’” she said.
At the orphanage, Sena Seth said, children were lucky if they had a blanket and slept either on the floor or on metal bunks without mattresses.
“So they slept on the metal slats of the bunk beds and just thought that was normal,” Sena Seth said.
When they got to the hotel, she remembered seeing Jakobus cling to his older sister, scared.
“He was just a shy, quiet kid,” Sena Seth said. “I don’t think he had any hopes for anything other than just getting through the day and getting something to eat, not getting yelled at — that kind of thing.”
By the end of the week, Jakobus started breaking out of his shell. He was “enamored” with the new foods he tried, Sena Seth said. She and her husband caught glimpses of the sweet boy they’d come to know.
Sena and Jarrod went through a 2 year adoption process. In January of 2010, they finally could go back to Haiti and bring back their new children.
On Jan. 12, they flew back to Port-au-Prince.
It was supposed to be a quick trip.
‘No clue what was going on’
Sena and Jarrod Smith picked up the two kids and were about to board a flight home to the United States.
As they stood in line, the ground shook.
A magnitude 7.0 earthquake wreaked havoc throughout the nation. Buildings became ruins.
Jakobus was 6.
“I had no clue what was going on,” he said. “I just looked up and saw some ceiling tiles falling down and I just pretty much bolted and my father chased me down and got me.”
As others fled for the entrance of the airport, the Seths made their way toward the tarmac.
Jakobus and Stella spoke French Creole. Their new parents didn’t.
Luck found them in the form of a Haitian-born soccer player who played at an American college, and who spoke Creole and English. He spotted the family and helped translate.
“I’ll always remember that boy,” Sena Seth said. “(He) was so thoughtful and so sweet, just to help calm them down and help them understand what was going on.”
The power was out and there was no communication through the flight tower. Eventually, pilots surveyed the runway and determined it was safe for takeoff.
About two hours after the quake, the Seths boarded their plane en route to the United States.
Amid the disaster, Jakobus said he was still just figuring out that he was being adopted.
“By the time I realized I was adopted, I was already coming to America,” he said.
Those first days in the new country were surreal, Jakobus said.
“I remember the drive to my house,” he said. “I still remember we were coming in during the night and I saw some lights under a bridge and I was like, ‘How does that even work?’”
Jakobus and Stella were quick to pick up English. They met other kids through their new siblings, who were close in age. Jakobus got his first bike a week after arriving. Within about an hour, he was unscrewing the training wheels and riding around like an experienced cyclist.
“Boy, they just took off so quickly,” Sena said. “… They were just complete and absolute sponges.”
By March, they were in school. Jakobus got his first taste of football that fall.
At age 7, Sena Seth said, Jakobus was clumsy. And he wasn’t mean enough for football.
“He was so sweet that he did not want to hurt anybody at all,” Sena Seth said. “So he couldn’t be aggressive out there.”
Jakobus also wrestled with his brother, John, who is a year older and who had been grappling for a few years. Jakobus soon became a standout wrestler himself, winning youth state titles in Greco, Freestyle and Folkstyle, and finished high enough at national tournaments to earn All-American honors as well.
Despite those accolades, Jakobus felt drawn to football.
“All my friends were doing football,” Jakobus said. “I wanted to try it and be around them as much as I could.”
Sena Seth felt apprehensive about such a physical and violent sport, noting the potential of head injuries. But she eventually gave in to her son’s persistence.
Cougar to Cougar
High school coaches noticed Jakobus when he was still in middle school.
He played flag football as a seventh grader, then tackle football the next year. In a workout with the high school team toward the end of eighth grade, he put up impressive numbers in the weight room, displayed elite flexibility for his size and went all-out in conditioning drills.
“He was catching everybody’s eyes,” Lakewood football coach Dan Teeter said.
In his freshman year, Jakobus measured 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. It wasn’t long until he saw action on the field. At the team’s first game, Lakewood’s starting left tackle suffered a serious leg injury. Teeter called on Jakobus to fill in.
“It was less of an excitement and more of a ‘Oh crap. I don’t really know the plays that well,’” Jakobus said.
He has played in every game since and has logged snaps at all five positions across the line, as well as tight end, even once catching a touchdown.
He credited the upperclassmen on the offensive and defensive lines for helping him get through that first year on varsity. He didn’t have as much experience as many of his teammates. He was still learning the strategic part of the game.
Jakobus put more time into studying the playbook and continued to impress in the weight room. He set school lifting records with a 365-pound bench press and 335-pound power clean.
He was named to The Herald’s All-Area team and was a first-team defensive lineman in the talent-stocked Sky Division of the Northwest Conference.
Teeter credited Jakobus’ work ethic.
“Even if he’s picking up something new, when he commits to something he gives it everything he’s got,” Teeter said. “I don’t think you’re gonna give him challenges in our typical life here — where we’re pretty blessed — that’s anything like what he’s gone through.”
Jakobus said his humble beginnings help push him to achieve his goals. Whenever he’s met with a challenge, he said, he thinks to himself: “This ain’t that bad.”
“I’ve been in worse conditions — starving, dying of thirst,” he said. “I just kind of think, ‘Man, this is irrelevant compared to the big picture of things.’ So it just helps me stay focused and stay humble at the same time.”
The Division I offers started rolling in junior year: Eastern Washington, Nevada, Oregon State and Washington State. Jakobus went to Pullman in June. He was sold. He made a verbal commitment in an Instagram post June 29.
“I just liked the atmosphere,” he said. “They were pursuing me the hardest. Coach (Mark) Weber at the time was the O-line coach. He had a plan for me. Some of the other offers I had, the coaches didn’t really know where they wanted me — offense or defense, some that said tight end. I didn’t know how comfortable I was with that.”
The Washington State coaching staff has changed since Jakobus made his pledge. Head coach Nick Rolovich and four assistants, including Weber, were fired on Oct. 18 after refusing to to comply with a mandate requiring state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Jakobus said he’s still firm in his choice.
“I still like the atmosphere,” he said. “I just like the college in general. I’m confident in my ability to perform wherever I’m put. So I’m just gonna work hard and do the most that I can with the opportunities I’ve been given.”
Barring a last minute change of heart, the Lakewood Cougar will become a Washington State Cougar.
‘The kind of kid that he is’
Jakobus wrapped up his final high school football season last Friday in Lakewood’s 81-31 win over Lynnwood.
It wasn’t quite the senior year he expected. He suffered a broken ankle last spring playing basketball. In the summer, during the second week of practices for football, he pulled his quad. And just as his quad was getting healthy, he sprained his ankle.
Still, Jakobus didn’t miss a game.
Teeter said some kids that already have scholarship offers wouldn’t risk playing through injuries. But Jakobus said it was important to finish his final high school season alongside his friends on the team.
“He’s not been fully healthy our entire season,” Teeter said. “Yet he goes out and gives everything he has. … He’s selfless.”
He has been a starting left tackle at Lakewood, and was recruited for the same position, but he could play guard or tackle in Pullman depending on the roster shakes out.
Outside of football, Jakobus has excelled in the classroom, receiving college offers from Ivy League schools like Dartmouth and Yale. He’s in honors classes and is senior class president at Lakewood.
He’s also an excellent chef, his mother said. For his 18th birthday he received a pasta maker. A rice cooker tops his Christmas list. And before the Seths recently moved into a new house in the Lakewood community, Jakobus tended to a vegetable garden.
Sena Seth recalled a morning when she was running late for work. When she opened the door to leave, Jakobus was standing outside to hand his mother her phone. He’d started her car and turned on the seat warmers.
“That’s just really the kind of kid that he is,” Sena Seth said. “If he sees something that he can do to help somebody, he helps and is quiet about it. He doesn’t need a lot of recognition.”
Zac Hereth: email@example.com. Twitter: @zachereth.