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Sherman Smith on finding out longtime mentee Deland McCullough is his son

Former Seahawks running backs coach Sherman Smith. (AP)

Former Seahawks running backs coach Sherman Smith saw something special when he recruited the 18-year-old Deland McCullough — now running backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs — to Miami of Ohio in 1990, but the mentor had no idea exactly how special their bond really was.

“I think he had an idea of what he wanted to try to accomplish in his life,” Smith told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “I just loved his seriousness, the intensity with which he went about things — and when he got on campus, his seriousness about his books, and training, and trying to get better. This was a young man who acted a lot more mature than his chronological years; he acted like a grown man. ”

Smith looked at Deland as a son long before he found out the talented young player’s true identity. He said that he treated all of the young men on his team as his own, advising them on not just football, but on life lessons.

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“Each and every guy, they were different to me, but they were like a son to me,” Smith said.

Over the years, as McCullough went on to play for the NFL, coach college football, get married, and have four children, he and his former coach kept in touch. Smith even brought McCullough out to Seattle for a coaching internship with the Seahawks in 2014.

What Smith did not know, however, was that McCullough, who was adopted at a few weeks old, was on the search for his biological parents.

In November of last year, McCullough found his birth mother, Carol Briggs. She explained how she had gotten pregnant at 16. She stayed at a home, which was custom for expectant teens in the early 1970s to avoid scandal. She gave the baby up for adoption. She had told very few people at the time of the father’s identity, and did not even inform the father himself, since he was 18 and about to go off to college.

That father later went on to become a professional player and running backs coach — by the name of Sherman Smith.

When McCullough found out that his biological father was the man he had looked up to as a dad for over two decades, he called Smith to give him the incredible news. McCullough eased into the bombshell by explaining how he had been looking for his biological parents. At first, Smith said, he thought that McCullough was just calling as a friend to fill him in on this important journey, and Smith was happy for McCullough.

Then, however, McCullough told Smith his birth mother’s name.

“When he said her name, my heart dropped, because I knew Carol Briggs,” Smith said.

Smith asked McCullough who his father was.

“I was surprised, I was shocked, it was like, boom — I was glad I was sitting down, because that was not what I’d expected to hear when we’d started our conversation that morning,” Smith said.

Smith’s first emotions were shame and guilt for his actions over 40 years before, even though he had not known at the time that he was a father. He felt sad that McCullough — whose adoptive father left when he was young — had grown up without a father figure.

“I was feeling bad about being so irresponsible,” Smith said. “When you’re 63, you see things differently than you do when you’re 16 or 17 years old, and I looked back on this, and the gravity of my irresponsibility, I could see it … I was feeling bad that I had put him through that.”

Initially, Smith was going to wait for a DNA test to tell his wife of four decades the news, but it weighed on him so much that he had to come clean to her that evening. To his relief, she was delighted to hear that the man she had been fond of for so long was her stepson, and that she had just gained four grandchildren.

“She knew Deland, she loved Deland, she was crazy about Deland,” he said.

Smith’s son and daughter also were happy to hear the news. His daughter joked that she had always wanted an older brother.

It was not random chance that a former Seahawks coach, living in Woodinville and coaching at Redmond High School, went to coach at Miami of Ohio in 1990 just in time to recruit McCullough, Smith believes.

“I’m a Christian, I’m not afraid or ashamed to say it,” he said. “As I look back on it now … I just don’t think that’s coincidence. I just see God’s hand all in it.”

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