Rich in talent

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Wednesday, November 8, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – Ben Mahdavi wants to be rich.

“I’m gonna be,” he says. “I’m gonna be rich.”

He wants to be rich and he wants to live on Mercer Island.

The greatest place in the world, he calls it.

He lived on Mercer Island for most of his life, but in comfortable middle class circumstances.

If he competes in the business world like he does in the athletic arena, he will not be middle class when he returns.

“He was an outstanding competitor,” says his former football coach at Mercer Island High School, Dick Nicholl. “He didn’t care for it when he didn’t do well. That wasn’t too often.”

Those times he failed to live up to his own expectations, nobody needed to get on him about it. Mahdavi came down harder on himself than any coach could.

“One of my problems in high school, and even last year, was letting plays go,” he says. “If I had a bad play, I had trouble flushing it.”

That’s the drawback with wanting to be perfect. “I just want to be right,” he says.

Right is good. But not always attainable. Especially in football.

Mahdavi is starting to realize this.

“You can’t make every play,” he concedes. “I still think about the mistakes I make, which I guess is good because you can correct them. I kinda go through them hundreds of times.”

When you’re as conscientious and competitive about the things you do as Ben Mahdavi is, you go places.

You go from walk-on to scholarship player. You go from not very well known to instant notoriety in the first game of the season. And, ultimately, you go from backup inside linebacker to starter.

“When he went to the all-state game (in 1998), he was not well known,” Nicholl says. “But he stepped up in that game.”

It got him an invite from the Huskies to walk on, but he went to Utah instead. He was back in Seattle before school started.

“It just wasn’t a fit for me,” he says. “I was more along the lines of thinking about the future.

“I know I want to live in Seattle when I’m done with college, so I figured why would I want to get a degree from there (Utah) and try to come here and get a job when so many people from the U-Dub are trying to get jobs in Seattle. So I decided to come back here, get a degree from here, meet people in Seattle.”

If we haven’t already said it, we should say it now: Ben Mahdavi is also smart. He has things figured out.

He would go back to the UW, which, like every other major college, didn’t offer him a scholarship when he came out of high school, walk on, work his tail off, maybe get rewarded, make a name for himself, do well in the classroom, graduate, go back into the community, get a job, work hard, get rich, return to Mercer Island.

The American Dream realized.

First things first.

He played special teams last year. Scored a touchdown (opening game, he recovered a fumbled punt). Won a letter.

In the offseason, he worked as a cashier at General Nutrition Center at Northgate. “I was working to pay rent and stuff (i.e., eat),” he says. “I had some financial aid but I didn’t want my mom (he comes from a single-parent home) to have to work too much more to pay for stuff.”

He was also working extra hard on his conditioning to make a run at that football scholarship. “I knew that I’d earn one,” he says. “My work ethic is pretty high. I was adamant about getting one just because of the money situation.”

He told his mother the scholarship would come in time. “I probably over-trained,” he says, “because I was getting shin splints by the end of spring (practice).”

He was also impressing the coaching staff. For when the team met for the first time for fall practice, coach Rick Neuheisel had a surprise.

“Let’s have a round of applause for former walk-on and our newest scholarship athlete, Ben Mahdavi,” Neuheisel announced.

“I was like, ‘All right,’ ” Mahdavi remembers thinking. “There were some things I wouldn’t have to work so hard for, like … money.”

His cashiering days over, he began two-a-days.

Some things about him stood out. “He’s a physically strong kid,” says Husky defensive coordinator Tim Hundley. “He runs well. He has good awareness of the game. And he’s kind of an unafraid kid.”

Unafraid. A good quality when you play inside linebacker.

First game this year against Idaho, (what is it about first games with this guy?) he makes Neuheisel look like a genius, returning a fumble 35 yards for a touchdown. Then he blocks a punt, which the Huskies recover and turn into another touchdown.

By the third game, he’s starting; by the fourth game, he’s back in a relief role; by the fifth game, he’s back in a starting role and he’s been there ever since. “He’s stepped right in and done more than we expected,” Hundley says.

He’s made 42 tackles, four for losses of 16 yards, including two sacks.

Mahdavi developed his no-fear attitude in wrestling. And he was on the mats at a very young age.

“My preschool gym teacher was a wrestling referee, and he had us rolling around on the mats at the Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island,” Mahdavi recalls. “When I got to high school, he refereed some of my matches.”

Mahdavi did some rapid growing in high school. He went from 5 feet 9, 129 pounds as a freshman to 6-0 1/2, 180 as a sophomore, when he became a starting linebacker. By the time he was a senior, he was 6-2, 225, and a state heavyweight wrestling champion.

Nicholl had Mahdavi in the classroom as well as on the football field, and says one of the things he enjoyed most about him was his spirit. “He has great enthusiasm,” the coach says. “He’s eager to participate, he loves to compete.”

He compares him to former Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary in that he’s “wide-eyed and always trying to do well.”

Like most wrestlers, Mahdavi learned to lead an exceptionally disciplined life. He doesn’t eat fast foods, doesn’t drink alcohol, doesn’t shy away from work.

He changed his major from business to communications but doesn’t know what he wants to be.

Well, aside from rich.

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