Jessica Elway is a young woman who is viewed in two different lights.
To those closest to her, she is Jessie Elway, a recently graduated student
from Cherry Creek High School (Colo.) who excelled both in the classroom and on
the basketball court and will continue to do so at Stanford University, where
she is currently a freshman.
To the people outside her tight-knit circle of friends and family, she is
Jessie Elway, the daughter of NFL and Stanford great John Elway who, as an
athlete, will attempt to follow her father’s path to glory as the newest member
of Cardinal Basketball.
It is only natural for such a dual identity to arise when your father is one
of the most recognizable figures in the country and is adored by the entire
state of Colorado. Despite the allure and interest that came with her last name,
Jessie managed to have a normal childhood, dabbling in many sports as a
youngster and attending a public high school in Englewood, Colo. Her father
ensured that his fame would not affect the upbringing of his children, even with
the constant glare of attention directed at him and his family.
The entire sporting community considers John Elway as one of the all-time
greatest quarterbacks who regularly performed miracles out on the football
field; Jessie and her three siblings see him first and foremost as "Dad" - the
one who set curfews and encouraged good grades. And thus, Jessie is always at a
loss for words whenever people come up to her and ask, “What’s it like with John
Elway as your father?”
“I’m always asked that question and I never really know how to answer it,”
laughs the eldest Elway offspring. “It’s always been that way since I’ve been
born so I really don’t know any other way… as far as having him as a dad, it’s
just that, he’s my dad.”
Growing up with a father who threw footballs for a living did come with its
advantages. Watching the Denver Broncos play from the sidelines on a weekly
basis was a definite perk, as were the multiple trips to Hawaii for the Pro
Bowl. It was also a thrill to witness her father lead the Broncos to two
straight Super Bowl victories in 1998 and 1999. However, nothing compared to
this past summer when she introduced him before his induction into the NFL Hall
of Fame in Canton, Ohio. In front of a nationally televised audience, Jessie
delivered a touching and heartfelt speech that allowed the rest of the country
to catch a small glimpse of who the NFL legend was off the field and in the
“It was such an honor that I was able to speak for him,” the daughter proudly
proclaims. “It was the most amazing experience of my life as well… I was so
proud to be up there, introducing him as my dad.”
With an amazing athletic pedigree coming from both sides of the family
(mother Janet was a champion swimmer during her years on The Farm), it would be
expected that the Elway children follow in the same direction as their parents.
However, Jessie insists that neither she nor her brother and sisters were pushed
into playing sports.
“They were so excited that we loved to play sports and that we loved to
compete,” reveals the 18-year-old. “They were never the type of parents to put
any pressure on us; they just wanted us to go hard and have fun. I was really
Taking full advantage of her Elway genes, Jessie lists basketball, diving,
hockey, lacrosse, soccer, swimming and volleyball as just a few of the
activities she participated in as a child. Early on, however, she recognized
that swimming was not a good fit for her, in spite of her mother’s aquatic
talents she inherited.
“For some reason, maybe because it’s such an individual sport, it was so
nerve racking, I couldn’t handle it!” exclaims the retired swimmer. “I ended up
quitting before I got to high school but I enjoyed it while I did it.”
Sticking to dry land instead, Elway took a liking to soccer and basketball.
She began both sports in the first grade, but by the time middle school rolled
around, basketball became the primary focus after joining the Colorado Select,
an AAU club team. She would later switch to the Mile High Magic in the 10th
grade, but the young hoopster continued to develop into one of Colorado’s most
versatile players. Although standing at only 5’11”, Elway played forward and
center in high school and roamed on the perimeter for her club team. She ended
her playing career at Cherry Creek High School with an appearance in the Class
5A State Final, though her Bruin team was defeated by ThunderRidge High School
in a tightly contested match, 60-57. After averaging 10.1 points and 5.1
rebounds a game her senior season, she was voted as a Second Team All-Colorado
selection. In addition, her abilities were recognized on a national level, as
she was chosen to participate in the adidas All-America All-Star game last
Despite only being ranked the #228 player in the Class of 2004 by the
All-Star Girls Report, Elway sets herself apart from her peers thanks to her
mental toughness and selfless attitude. Fellow freshman Candice Wiggins likens
her play to that of a football player and believes she is an underrated player.
Teammate Cissy Pierce, a rival during their prep days in Colorado, admires her
willingness to do whatever is necessary for her team in order to secure a
“She’s always played out of position. She’s about my height and she’s always
played in the post,” comments Pierce. ”She always played hard, diving on the
ground for balls, snatching rebounds, and always putting in the extra points.”
Shooting hoops had always been a favorite pastime for Elway, but she wanted
to play basketball in college ever since she could remember. In the fourth
grade, she wrote an essay detailing her desire to earn a scholarship to Stanford
and learn the game from Head Coach Tara VanDerveer. Eight years later, her dream
of playing Division I basketball on The Farm materialized when VanDerveer
offered Elway the opportunity to join the Cardinal roster. Washington also
recruited her heavily, but in the end, the combination of education and
athletics at Stanford proved to be too good to pass up.
As a freshman on a senior-laden squad, playing time may not come as easily
for Elway as it did during her high school years. In addition, the coaching
staff envisions moving her from the post and out on the perimeter, a transition
that many in her position would find difficult. However, Elway cites her
previous AAU experiences on the wing to be helpful with the move, along with the
support and guidance she receives from her teammates. Jessie understands that
her role on the court may be limited this season, but still takes pride in being
a part of such a great team.
“I’ve been so lucky to play with these players and I’m excited to have the
opportunity to play against them everyday and learn from them,” she declares.
“We have so much talent that I think we definitely have a lot of potential and
I’m so glad to be a part of it.”
As her profile with the Cardinal increases in the future, perhaps the duality
she has battled all her life will be eradicated. Instead of being known solely
for the identity of her father, she will someday stand out with her own athletic
gifts and be recognized as Jessie Elway, #42 on the Stanford Women’s Basketball
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