Del Campo High School senior defensive back Tony Gobern, who signed a national letter of intent today with Washington, knew the school was right for him as soon as he stepped off the plane during his first visit to Seattle.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Gobern loved the city, the weather and the Washington campus. But the biggest selling point was Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham.
"I've had some good talks with coach Willingham," said Gobern, a three-year standout for the Cougars and a Bee first-team All-Metro selection this season. "I know he is going to challenge me."
But what impressed Gobern even more is that they spent more time talking about things other than football.
"He's more like a father figure than a coach," Gobern said. "I felt we had a whole lot in common. "We both like 'The Art of War' (believed to be the oldest military treatise in the world). We both like philosophy and historical things."
Alex Gobern Sr., Tony's father, got the same impression.
"We felt at ease with him," Alex said. "His reputation and character are impeccable. You know when he says something he means it. There are no games involved."
Gobern wasn't rash about making his decision, however.
He made three visits to Washington, including an official visit Jan. 4. He also attended the Huskies summer football camp, where he performed well and received his scholarship offer.
He said it helped that his friend, Vacaville running back Terrance Dailey, decided to attend Washington. Also, former Cougars star Donald Butler is a junior linebacker at Washington.
Tony and his father stayed busy during the spring and summer.
Gobern attended camps at USC, Cal, UCLA and Stanford. He even checked out Georgia Tech, close to where relatives live. He also attended three combines, including one in Southern California.
It was a grueling itinerary, but worth it.
"Great things don't come easy," Gobern said. "If you want something to last for a long time, you've got to put in long-time effort.
Alex said it was important for his son to play in front the scouts to better show his "freakish" strength and sprinter's speed.
"Coaches at the important schools are really interested in seeing you in some type of game situation," said Alex, an assistant football coach at Del Campo. "It validates what they heard about you or seen on tape. The thing working in Tony's favor is that he always looks better live than on tape."
But the summer push might have been harder on Dad than son.
"I was probably just as tired as he was," Alex said. "They are stressful because you know there is this small window of opportunity at these camps, combines and senior-only events. I was always telling Tony to have a good day, just relax. But my stomach was in knots."
Among Gobern's other scholarship offers was a chance to play for the Air Force Academy, where his father, now a pilot for United Airlines, attended.
Legendary former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry allowed Alex to walk-on, but Alex said his football career was derailed after a few weeks when he landed on academic probation.
"The school is really tough," Alex said. "From 6 in the morning to 11 at night you are doing something, and you only get to go home for five or six weeks out of the year. But I can't complain. Things worked out pretty well."
Said Tony: "That was a tough decision. I know the Air Force can set you up for life. But it just seemed like Seattle was the place for me."
Gobern said Washington's 4-9 season and 2-7 finish in the Pac-10 didn't scare him.
"Although they were struggling with a tough year, I've looked at it as if I can do my part and be part of a new, young team," he said.
Washington ranked last among Pac-10 schools in total defense, so he thinks he might be able to help right away.
"I'm told the DB spots are fair game," Gobern said. "Whoever has the best practices is going to play."
- Bill Paterson