Fever players making Tri-Cities their permanent home

Tri-City HeraldOctober 9, 2012 

Steven Whitehead was one of the best wide receivers in the Indoor Football League last season.

And while he's proud of his accomplishments on the field -- 98 receptions for 902 yards and 26 touchdowns while playing for the Tri-Cities Fever -- he's busting his buttons over the new location of his personal training business, Elite Ambitions.

Whitehead has taken over the old Hotsy Pressure Washers building, at 1225 S. 10th Ave. in Pasco, at the foot of the Cable Bridge.

The facility has a weight room and FieldTurf so football players can work on their agility and pass routes.

Whitehead has dived head first into the business, and has help from Vaalyn Jackson -- another former Fever player, who went to McNeese State in Louisiana with Whitehead.

Anywhere from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., a workout class might be going on. It could involve some of this region's better high school football players. Or it could be little kids.

"Business is starting to pick up a little bit," said Whitehead. "I have clients from ages 7 to 46."

Whitehead is also a part of a bigger trend: He is one of 13 current or former Fever players making their offseason homes here in the Mid-Columbia.

They came to the Tri-Cities looking for an opportunity to play football. They've stayed for the quality of life and better opportunities.

And make no mistake, these young men know when their football careers are over they need to get on to the next phase of their lives.

"There is so much opportunity out here," said Whitehead. "Vaalyn and I are from the South. There is much more opportunity here to get a job. We're over-qualified for a lot of jobs in the South. There are tons of opportunities here. I couldn't do this back home."

Besides Whitehead and Jackson, defensive back Lionell Singleton and linebacker Brandon Wilson have been running an after-school program for at-risk kids -- called The Next Level of Academics and Athletics -- at Eastgate Elementary School in Kennewick going into their second school year.

Fever defensive back Deleon Gause is working with Singleton and Wilson.

Defensive lineman Darius Collins and running back Dennis Kennedy work at a group home for disabled children. Defensive linemen Bailey Johnsen and Jake Killeen, and former quarterback Houston Lillard all work in local restaurants.

Defensive back Marquise Liverpool puts in 100 hours a month at the Juvenile Justice Center, and he's a full-time para-educator at McLoughlin Middle School in Pasco.

Former linebacker Joe Thornton, traded last season from the Fever to the Colorado Ice, works at a gym. Ex-defensive lineman Brian Rackley does the same.

Most athletes head home after the season. But not these guys. This area is home now.

They dived in to be part of the community. Whitehead coaches Grid Kids. Lillard and a number of the players have helped out with the Columbia Basin College club team.

There is a draw here for them.

"It's the economy," said Liverpool, who hails from New England. "It's the income-to-rent ratio, the living standards that are of better quality than on the east coast. I'd have to say the economy here is better in comparison to the rest of the country. It's not as good as it was a few years ago, and there are a numerous amount of reasons for that."

Fever owner Teri Carr also has overheard her players talking about the economy here.

"But the guys also talk about how our climate is better. It's not as humid as where they're from," Carr said. "And I think people here are very accepting of them. I think the reason they've stayed is they like the area, and they like the people."

Carr said that Wilson's mother, who lives in Texas, came up to the Tri-Cities last season to visit her son.

"Brandon's mom thinks Washington is a beautiful place," Carr said. "In fact, his mom is moving here."

Whitehead understands why.

"People are so nice here," he said.

Whitehead was thinking after this past season, his football career would be over. He's rethinking that now. But he'll always have his new love -- personal training.

"I broke my back three years ago and a trainer got me back into the game," he said. "Once I got into this, I found I can help individuals be better and stronger. I like that."

And he likes it even better in his new building in his adopted community.

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