By DAVID LLOYD JONES
ALL-PRO PLAYER: Steve August puts a block on Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets in the early 1980s. August was an all-conference player at Tulsa, then became an All-Pro with Seattle in the NFL. He is a member of the Seahawks all-time team.
Some people have admirably straightforward lives. They know from birth where they want to go, what they want to achieve and how to get there.
Steve August is not one of those people.
The native of tiny Jeannette, Pa., who found a measure of fame by being an offensive tackle for the University of Tulsa and later the Seattle Seahawks, is now a Certified Financial Planner for Vineyard Financial Group in Tulsa, where he is also part owner and vice president. It is not where he envisioned being, but in a life with more turns than a highway in the Rocky Mountains it’s where he wound up. He couldn’t be more pleased.
August’s path began in that small Pennsylvania town about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh some 51 years ago. His father was an Air Force man so the family went to California where his parents’ marriage broke up. Eventually, when Steve was eight-years-old, his mother took the family back to Jeannette.
“We didn’t have much money so I got my escape by being heavily involved in sports. I did football, basketball, golf and track. When I graduated from high school I had to find a college where I could get a scholarship.”
How, in Heaven’s name, did a boy from a small town in Pennsylvania wind up in Tulsa?
In the early 1970s Tulsa had two assistant coaches, Bob Junko and Greg Williams, who hailed from Pennsylvania and had ties with the high school coaches there.
They also knew Alex Phillips.
Tulsa’s ties with western Pennsylvania were well known at the time but few people knew the role Alex Phillips played in TU recruiting there. Phillips, who had been a World War II fighter ace, had played at the University of Pittsburgh and made his money in an oil business based in Tulsa. He began donating generously so recruiting trips could be made from Tulsa to help the young men of his native area. Working behind the scenes he helped TU get a number of young players who normally would never have considered playing here. August was one of his beneficiaries.
“I arrived the same year, 1972, when Steve Largent got here,” August recalls, “but I was injured and had to sit out a year as a redshirt so I graduated a year later.”
He used his time well. In 1976 he made the Missouri Valley Conference first team and was selected to the Associated Press All-American first team. He also played in the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Senior Bowl games. It was enough to interest the pros.
When the draft came up the Seattle Seahawks, a recent expansion team in the National Football League with scant prospects for immediate success, had the second draft pick and hungered for a running back named Tony Dorsett.
But Dorsett had made it clear he wanted instant success and wouldn’t play for the Seahawks, so a trade was made. On the 14th selection of the 1977 draft the Seahawks chose August, only one of two TU players ever to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft (the other was Glenn Dobbs).
“It didn’t hurt,” laughs August, “that Largent was already in Seattle to lobby for me and that the offensive coordinator was former TU quarterback great Jerry Rhome.
“It was a great draft for Seattle. The Dallas Cowboys may have gotten Dorsett but with the extra draft selections we got as a result of the trade we got three starters.”
That draft began a golden era in August’s life. What was it like running out on a field with tens of thousands of wild-eyed fans roaring their approval?
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. Hearing a crowd that’s going nuts is wonderful. You know that at any moment you may receive an injury that will end your career abruptly but you push it out of your mind.”
August says playing aside Largent was one of the great experiences of his life. “He is not only a super human being but he’s one of the greatest wide-receivers of all time.”
Football is not a sentimental sport. After seven years in Seattle, a city he loved, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers and then to the New York Jets. Injuries limited his playing time after he left Seattle. It was time to leave the NFL after the 1985 season.
“I coached for awhile at the University of Washington, then I did some student teaching in Seattle. I finished my undergraduate degree in Special Education at TU.”
But he found himself floundering. “I was searching for a career and couldn’t really find anything. I suddenly began asking myself, ‘what am I going to do now that I’m no longer playing football.
“Things grew worse, and I cried out, ‘God, where are you?”
Reflecting recently August said, “God has a plan for your life. Sometimes you don’t make the right choices.”
August decided to return to Tulsa, where he received his master of science degree in sports management in 1992 with the ultimate goal of becoming an athletic director.
Then his old buddy Steve Largent and TU athletic director Rick Dickson decided to get their hair cut and August’s life was about to change.
“They got their hair cut by a hairstylist from Beggs named Kellie Miles. They decided Kellie was the woman for me and arranged a meeting. A little over a year later we were married.”
That axed his athletic director dreams. When young Matthew was born he realized that a job that would require extensive travel and time away from home wasn’t for him.
He had gotten his securities license in 1983 and had worked with Seattle firms during the off-season so he updated his license and went to work with Merrill-Lynch. “They had a fine training program and it gave me time to be with my kids (son Seth had joined the family). I wanted to take part in their life and have a relationship with them.”
August moved to Vineyard Financial Group in 2002.
Having been a pro football player he knows how quickly a major injury can strike, so how does he feel when he’s coaching them in a contact sport?
“Frankly, it scares me to death but you can’t live life that way. It’s just like being a wildcatter on an oil rig; there are a lot of dangers there.”
One thing August has found enjoyable is joining the Rotary Club of Tulsa. He is on the committee that puts on Rotary’s famed Henry Iba sports dinner and has also joined the group volunteering at Celia Clinton Elementary School – a school whose student body is largely made up of economically disadvantaged children.
“I relate to those kids. When my Dad left we were on welfare. I remember six people living in a three-room house.”
So why does a busy businessman and Dad take on so many additional responsibilities?
“There’s a reason why we’re put here and it isn’t just to satisfy our own desires.”