It started with his father tossing him a football in the backyard of their home in Chino Hills, Calif. Kyle Essington, then a fifth-grader and now the star quarterback at Stony Brook University, initially thought nothing more of it than a chance to spend time with his dad, Randy.
Then it started to click. The way Randy handled the ball -- the grip, the spiral, the distance -- was like the quarterbacks Kyle saw when they watched college football on television.
Nothing in the Essington household advertised that Randy had been a premier college quarterback at Colorado who was drafted by the Super Bowl champion Raiders in 1984. "You know how kids are; they want to be like their dad,'' Randy said. "My whole life, I never had any memorabilia of me playing. I never wanted him to think it was everything in the world to me that he played football.''
So Dad never mentioned his football career. "I think Kyle overheard people conversing with Randy and I regarding Randy playing,'' said Julie Essington, Kyle's mom. "Kyle started asking questions. We said, 'It was wonderful. Your dad was drafted by the Raiders.' It made Kyle think, 'Wow, my dad was kind of a big deal.' ''
Or as Kyle said: "I realized that my dad was this awesome quarterback that I would look up to the rest of my life.''
The feeling is mutual. "When I played the game, I never ever felt the way I feel watching him play,'' Randy said. "My emotions are through the roof. I would rather do nothing in the world than watch him play.''
Randy got Kyle interested in the sport by coaching him in California's version of Pop Warner. "He was more focused on me, making sure I had fun. He didn't want to put that kind of pressure on me,'' Kyle said. "He didn't want me to feel like I had shoes to fill. I didn't feel like I had to, but I wanted to.''
Randy was the last player selected in the 1984 NFL draft, giving him the moniker "Mr. Irrelevant.'' But he has been anything but irrelevant in his son's athletic career, supporting him every step of the way.
After high school, Kyle hoped to play for Cal-Davis, but an anticipated offer fizzled. The quarterback attended junior college at the interestingly-named Mt. SAC -- Mt. San Antonio College -- in Walnut, Calif., where his dad said he took his lumps but was lauded as the scout-team QB. He transferred to Fullerton, and a successful year led to his recruitment by Stony Brook.
"We went to look at somebody else,'' coach Chuck Priore said. "Their offensive coordinator said, 'Take a peek at Kyle.' ''
The senior is perfect for Stony Brook's pro-style balanced offense, doing more than just handing off to heralded running backs Miguel Maysonet and Marcus Coker. He threw 20 TD passes last year. "Every play starts with him,'' offensive coordinator Jeff Behrman said. "He has to be able to make the correct decisions and continue to move the chains for us. He's a big denominator.''
Essington specializes in play- action. "I would see him mimic it in front of a mirror,'' his father said. "He has it down to the point where you didn't know if he has the ball or not.''
Essington stepped in early last year when two-year starter Michael Coulter was sidelined with a knee injury. "We knew what he could do,'' wide receiver Jordan Gush said of Essington, "so we knew there would be no drop-off. Everyone's keying on the run game so we're getting one-on-one coverage a lot, so that's a huge deal. With Adrian Coxson, Kevin Norrell and me, there's lots of weapons out there.''
Randy Essington is a general contractor and his wife works in the airline industry, which Julie said allows them to see Kyle's games. Randy was in Texas last December when Stony Brook lost to Sam Houston State, 34-27, in a Football Championship Subdivision second-round playoff game. Sam Houston went to the national championship game. That loss motivated Essington for this season, his father said.
"He told me after the game, 'Dad, this isn't going to happen again. I'm going to win this whole thing.' I said, 'I know you can.' ''