Seter goes from football toss to spot on Georgia roster

The story of how John Seter’s family arrived in Ridgefield and how he wound up as a redshirt freshman quarterback at the University of Georgia — wearing number 16 while standing on the sidelines during last Monday night’s NCAA championship game against Alabama — has a simple start: Two boys throwing a football back and forth.

From there, though, the narrative takes a hard turn toward non-linear, sounding more like magical realism than reality.

Best then to begin back in the fall of 2012, when Seter was an eighth grader at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, N.H. His parents had recently moved from the midwest to Darien — his dad, Chris, was a 6’9” center on the Michigan team that won an NCAA men’s basketball championship in 1989 — and Seter was at Cardigan (an all-boys junior prep school) for the academics and the hockey program, which has produced several NHL players.

“Another kid asked if I wanted to go out and throw a football around,” said Seter. “So we went outside and just started playing catch.”

Seter hadn’t played any organized football, and he stood just 5’7” and weighed 135 pounds. But his arm and throwing motion caught the eye of Steve Harris, Cardigan’s varsity coach, who happened to be walking by and noticed Seter and the other student tossing the pigskin.

Harris asked Seter if he was interested in joining the football team; the next day he was at Cardigan’s practice; a few weeks later he made his first start at quarterback.

Seter spent the following school year at Cardigan, playing football, hockey and lacrosse, before leaving for Salisbury, a small prep school in upstate Connecticut. He continued with all three sports, becoming the starting quarterback on the football team as a junior and helping Salisbury go unbeaten during the regular season.

“My focus was still on hockey and, to a lesser extent, lacrosse at Salisbury,” said Seter. “But I found myself really enjoying football.”

Seter’s interest was boosted by periodic visits to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he caught the attention of former Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke, one of the football camp directors.

“I was the youngest kid bar none when I first went to IMG (after his eighth grade year at Cardigan),” said Seter. “But Chris Weinke still thought I had some ability and began working with me. His encouragement gave me confidence and made me want to improve.”

Seter did get better, throwing for more than 1,100 yards in his junior season at Salisbury, which ended with a loss in the New England championship game. He also got bigger, sprouting to 6’4” and displaying enough potential to start thinking seriously about college football.

One problem: As a late bloomer, Seter was off the recruiting radar.

“I was mostly an unknown to college scouts,” said Seter. “And at Salisbury we had a great running game and only threw the ball about 12 times a game.”

To compensate, Seter attended several college camps throughout the country. He also came to a conclusion, deciding to leave Salisbury and spend his senior season at a more visible program.

Working with a college sports consultant, Seter chose Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks, Calif. His parents sold their home in Darien and planned to move to California to join Seter, who had already arrived at Westlake for preseason practice. Then two things happened almost simultaneously: Seter was told he had been beaten out by a junior at Westlake, and the moving van transporting his family’s possessions to California made it only to Rye, N.Y., before catching fire.

After learning he would be the backup at Westlake, Seter made a quick audible, catching a red-eye flight and enrolling the next day at Lovejoy High School in Hampton, Ga., outside of Atlanta. His parents, meanwhile, did their own about-face, buying a house in Ridgefield.

“I had met some of their receivers during a camp and got along well with them,” said Seter about choosing Lovejoy. “They were really fast and could catch the ball, and they told me they needed a quarterback.”

Culturally, Lovejoy represented a seismic shift for Seter. “I was the only white kid at the school,” he said. “The first day I walked into the cafeteria wearing a Vineyard Vines shirt and Vineyard Vines pants with sneakers. It was really loud until everyone saw me and then the cafeteria went silent.”

Seter became something of a celebrity at the school, bonding with teammates and helping Lovejoy reach the Region 6-A Sweet 16. He threw for 2,002 yards and 21 touchdowns, making the All-County and First Team All-Region teams and signing with Georgia as a preferred walk-on.

Seter told the Georgia coaches he wanted to redshirt this season in order to learn the Bulldogs offensive scheme and add weight. “I’m 6’4” and 185 pounds now … I came in at 178 … so I need to keep lifting weights and eating,” said Seter.

Georgia’s overtime loss to Alabama in the title game denied the Seters of having a second national champion in the family. John Seter thinks that status could be temporary.

“We’re going to be pretty good again next year,” he said. “I think this loss, as painful as it was, is just going to make everyone who returns more motivated.”