Jessica Elway is a young woman who is viewed in two different lights.
To those closest to her, she is Jessie Elway, a recently graduated student from Cherry Creek High School (Colo.) who excelled both in the classroom and on the basketball court and will continue to do so at Stanford University, where she is currently a freshman.
To the people outside her tight-knit circle of friends and family, she is Jessie Elway, the daughter of NFL and Stanford great John Elway who, as an athlete, will attempt to follow her father's path to glory as the newest member of Cardinal Basketball.
It is only natural for such a dual identity to arise when your father is one of the most recognizable figures in the country and is adored by the entire state of Colorado. Despite the allure and interest that came with her last name, Jessie managed to have a normal childhood, dabbling in many sports as a youngster and attending a public high school in Englewood, Colo. Her father ensured that his fame would not affect the upbringing of his children, even with the constant glare of attention directed at him and his family.
The entire sporting community considers John Elway as one of the all-time greatest quarterbacks who regularly performed miracles out on the football field; Jessie and her three siblings see him first and foremost as "Dad" - the one who set curfews and encouraged good grades. And thus, Jessie is always at a loss for words whenever people come up to her and ask, "What's it like with John Elway as your father?"
"I'm always asked that question and I never really know how to answer it," laughs the eldest Elway offspring. "It's always been that way since I've been born so I really don't know any other way… as far as having him as a dad, it's just that, he's my dad."
Growing up with a father who threw footballs for a living did come with its advantages. Watching the Denver Broncos play from the sidelines on a weekly basis was a definite perk, as were the multiple trips to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. It was also a thrill to witness her father lead the Broncos to two straight Super Bowl victories in 1998 and 1999. However, nothing compared to this past summer when she introduced him before his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. In front of a nationally televised audience, Jessie delivered a touching and heartfelt speech that allowed the rest of the country to catch a small glimpse of who the NFL legend was off the field and in the home.
"It was such an honor that I was able to speak for him," the daughter proudly proclaims. "It was the most amazing experience of my life as well… I was so proud to be up there, introducing him as my dad."
With an amazing athletic pedigree coming from both sides of the family (mother Janet was a champion swimmer during her years on The Farm), it would be expected that the Elway children follow in the same direction as their parents. However, Jessie insists that neither she nor her brother and sisters were pushed into playing sports.
"They were so excited that we loved to play sports and that we loved to compete," reveals the 18-year-old. "They were never the type of parents to put any pressure on us; they just wanted us to go hard and have fun. I was really lucky."
Taking full advantage of her Elway genes, Jessie lists basketball, diving, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, swimming and volleyball as just a few of the activities she participated in as a child. Early on, however, she recognized that swimming was not a good fit for her, in spite of her mother's aquatic talents she inherited.
"For some reason, maybe because it's such an individual sport, it was so nerve racking, I couldn't handle it!" exclaims the retired swimmer. "I ended up quitting before I got to high school but I enjoyed it while I did it."
Sticking to dry land instead, Elway took a liking to soccer and basketball. She began both sports in the first grade, but by the time middle school rolled around, basketball became the primary focus after joining the Colorado Select, an AAU club team. She would later switch to the Mile High Magic in the 10th grade, but the young hoopster continued to develop into one of Colorado's most versatile players. Although standing at only 5'11", Elway played forward and center in high school and roamed on the perimeter for her club team. She ended her playing career at Cherry Creek High School with an appearance in the Class 5A State Final, though her Bruin team was defeated by ThunderRidge High School in a tightly contested match, 60-57. After averaging 10.1 points and 5.1 rebounds a game her senior season, she was voted as a Second Team All-Colorado selection. In addition, her abilities were recognized on a national level, as she was chosen to participate in the adidas All-America All-Star game last March.
Despite only being ranked the #228 player in the Class of 2004 by the All-Star Girls Report, Elway sets herself apart from her peers thanks to her mental toughness and selfless attitude. Fellow freshman Candice Wiggins likens her play to that of a football player and believes she is an underrated player. Teammate Cissy Pierce, a rival during their prep days in Colorado, admires her willingness to do whatever is necessary for her team in order to secure a victory.
"She's always played out of position. She's about my height and she's always played in the post," comments Pierce. "She always played hard, diving on the ground for balls, snatching rebounds, and always putting in the extra points."
Shooting hoops had always been a favorite pastime for Elway, but she wanted to play basketball in college ever since she could remember. In the fourth grade, she wrote an essay detailing her desire to earn a scholarship to Stanford and learn the game from Head Coach Tara VanDerveer. Eight years later, her dream of playing Division I basketball on The Farm materialized when VanDerveer offered Elway the opportunity to join the Cardinal roster. Washington also recruited her heavily, but in the end, the combination of education and athletics at Stanford proved to be too good to pass up.
As a freshman on a senior-laden squad, playing time may not come as easily for Elway as it did during her high school years. In addition, the coaching staff envisions moving her from the post and out on the perimeter, a transition that many in her position would find difficult. However, Elway cites her previous AAU experiences on the wing to be helpful with the move, along with the support and guidance she receives from her teammates. Jessie understands that her role on the court may be limited this season, but still takes pride in being a part of such a great team.
"I've been so lucky to play with these players and I'm excited to have the opportunity to play against them everyday and learn from them," she declares. "We have so much talent that I think we definitely have a lot of potential and I'm so glad to be a part of it."
As her profile with the Cardinal increases in the future, perhaps the duality she has battled all her life will be eradicated. Instead of being known solely for the identity of her father, she will someday stand out with her own athletic gifts and be recognized as Jessie Elway, #42 on the Stanford Women's Basketball team.
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