Running back Djouvensky Schlenbaker committed to Washington State. Photo via Theo Lawson's Twitter account

By Theo Lawson for The Spokesman-Review

Because college football recruiting is a never-ending cycle that consumes roughly 365 days a year, it’s uncommon for programs that typically sign between 15-30 new players every season to pick up multiple commitments in a single day. Commitments tend to happen on a more sporadic basis – maybe once every few weeks on average – but schools do manage to hit the occasional jackpot.

This rare recruiting conquest happened recently at Washington State.

Jakobus Seth, an enormous tight end/defensive end who projects as an offensive tackle at the college level, and Djouvensky Schlenbaker, a strong, fast running back, both chose a future with the Cougars late last month and made their decisions public on the same day.

It was 8:27 a.m. on June 28 when Schlenbaker penned a commitment letter on his Twitter account and shared photos from his official visit to WSU. Seth’s reveal happened on Instagram later that night, just shy of 10 p.m.

But when it comes to the parallel tracks their lives have followed, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Both play high school football on the west side of Washington – Seth for 2A Lakewood and Schlenbaker for 3A Squalicum – and here’s another interesting twist: they chose the same weekend, June 25-27, to go on their official visits, though Seth and Schlenbaker say they never bumped into each other, maybe the only way to confirm their June 28 announcements weren’t actually choreographed.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think their lives had been.

There’s a reason WSU’s coaches connected the in-state prospects a few months earlier through a group text message chat. It’s true: their visits and same-day commitments were completely random, but Seth was familiar with Schlenbaker and vice versa. Now their bond stands to grow even tighter.

“Us Haitians got to stick together,” Schlenbaker wrote in an Instagram post when Seth committed to the Cougars.

Schlenbaker and Seth are natives of Haiti – both former orphans who’d been legally adopted by families in Washington before a 7.0 magnitude earthquake slammed the Greater Antilles island in 2010. But the future WSU football players didn’t actually make it out until Jan. 12, the day powerful tremors started to uproot the impoverished third-world country.

With evacuation stories that should make more than a few jaws drop if they’re ever shared in WSU’s locker room, both Seth and Schlenbaker got out safely – their outlook much more optimistic than that of a nation that suffered more than 220,000 deaths as a result of the destructive quake.

“I remember the chaos of it and the situation being stressful for everybody, but you can’t fully understand the gravity of the situation until somebody tells you when you’re much older,” Seth said. “I just remember it being a new situation for everybody and how scared everyone was. That’s about the full extent of it.”

‘Somebody was looking out for us’

It’s become a household joke for Sena Seth and her family of five.

“I can tease my biological kids about how many hours I was in labor and this and that and the other,” she said. “I tell Jakobus and Stella, his sister, you guys were the worst labor. You guys were hard.”

When Sena and her husband decided to adopt in 2007, they were already parents of three – two daughters and a son – and figured they’d round things out by bringing another boy into the family to interact with their own son. It didn’t happen that way, though, because not long after identifying Jakobus on their first trip to Haiti, they also learned of his older sister, Stella.

Jakobus was too young to remember the details, but he reasoned the adoption process was “pretty much like shopping,” and still wonders why his parents wanted to keep shopping after giving birth to their first three children.

“I don’t know why they’d want five kids,” he laughed, “but that’s what they wanted.”

When the Seths took their first trip to Haiti in 2007, they hosted Jakobus at their hotel. They watched him wade through their swimming pool. They bought him his first Coca Cola. They saw the wide grin of a boy whose less-than-modest lifestyle rarely gave him reasons to smile. At the orphanage, Jakobus’ nights were spent on plain metal bunk beds, usually not outfitted with mattresses or blankets. But those meager circumstances didn’t seem to change his demeanor.

“(He) was just the sweetest as could be,” Sena said.

It took 2½ years to complete adoption paperwork, visas, passports and everything else the Seths would need to bring Jakobus and Stella back to Washington, meaning they couldn’t return to Haiti to finalize the adoption until 2010. So, they came back in January of that year. Jan. 12 specifically.

“Crazy timing,” Sena said.

Sena and Jarrod Seth made a fateful decision to fly in and out of Haiti on the same day, rather than stay the night in a hotel. A taxi transported the parents and their two new children to the airport and the four were standing in line with boarding passes when they first noticed rumbles. As the seismic activity below started to intensify, most passengers fled back through the airport’s main entrance, but Jarrod Seth grabbed his family by the hands and made a beeline to the airplane.

A Haitian soccer player who was studying in the U.S. helped the Seths translate to their French creole-speaking children what was happening as they waited nervously on the tarmac. While pilots tested out the runway for cracks or debris that might make a departure unfeasible, billows of smoke emerged from the city behind the airport.

“The airport had quite a few cracks in it,” Sena said. “All of the ceiling tiles had fallen down on us. But it was really creepy seeing all that smoke and knowing how serious of an earthquake that had been and not hearing any sirens or anything. It’s like, I don’t know if there’s any help coming.”

Once pilots got clearance, the Seths hurried onto the passenger plane that ferried them to Florida. They boarded the last plane to leave Port-au-Prince before the earthquake grounded every other commercial flight coming in and out of the country.

“The earthquake had happened and we were just waiting on the runway, they were doing a runway check and there was one plane left,” Jakobus said. “We were fortunate enough to make it on that plane.”

What they left behind was a country that had its already-flimsy infrastructure swallowed by one of the most destructive natural disasters in recent memory. The orphanage Jakobus and Stella resided in was damaged. Numerous guests staying at the hotel Sena and Jarrod would’ve booked didn’t survive. Buildings that had stored adoption documents for both children were reduced to dust.

“Thank god for that timing because if we’d gone out the next day – we wouldn’t have been able to go out the next day,” Sena said. “… So, somebody was looking out for us, that’s for sure and I feel like it was really meant to be.” Continue reading

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