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    Sage Time Update

    Sage is all the rage: Maquoketa, Iowa, native turns heads on, off field /

    Sage is all the rage: Maquoketa, Iowa, native turns heads on, off field

    By Dave Shelles | Sunday, July 20, 2008 12:35 AM CDT | Houston Texans quarterback Sage Rosenfels, a Maquoketa, Iowa, native, went 4-1 as a starter last season. (Contributed photo)

    An NFL career bloomed on an 11-acre spread near Maquoketa, Iowa.

    No one around that part of the world — not even Sage Rosenfels himself — could have imagined that he would make it to the National Football League, let alone be a starter.

    But he did it. He went 4-1 as a starter for the Houston Texans in 2007, helping them to the first 8-8 season in the franchise’s short history.

    Now he’s trying to make the Texans’ preseason quarterback competition as interesting as possible, with starter Matt Schaub recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Ideally, he’ll be the guy under center when the Texans open the season Sept. 7 at Pittsburgh.

    The Iowa State graduate said football has been a game of stages for him.

    “The first stage was at Maquoketa, trying to be the starter in high school,” he said. “My goal was to be starter in college at one point, but I never thought we’d have the type of year we had (Iowa State went 9-3 and won the Bowl his senior year). I made an NFL team (the Redskins) in my rookie year and now it’s eight years later.

    “You just do the best you can in the situation at the time and you never know what happens after that.”

    Unusual upbringing

    Rosenfels was the fourth of five children born to Robert and Jamie Rosenfels. Robert is a sales representative from the Chicago area and Jamie is a midwife who grew up in Maquoketa. The two decided to move to an 11-acre tract of land near her hometown and raise their family there.

    It was an idyllic place to have a family, as the Rosenfels clan grew its own vegetables and fruits, and slaughtered its own animals for meat. There always were chores to be done although Sage’s five-sport schedule — he also lettered in baseball, basketball, tennis and track — absolved him of some of those responsibilities.

    Everything on the farm was organic, too, although Robert Rosenfels said the designation ruffled a few feathers among those in the know in Maquoketa. Still, clan Rosenfels was ahead of the curve.

    “It was cool to eat organic, even back then,” Robert said. “Just not in Iowa.”

    Sports were the coolest thing for young Sage. With two older brothers, competition for Sage was keen within his family. Robert Rosenfels said brothers Jaffa and Jeremiah kept Sage honest but didn’t cut him any slack either.

    “The way it worked out, he had two older brothers as athletic as he,” he said. “They built a basketball court and a goalpost in the yard. They always played with him, too, so give Jaffa and Jeremiah credit.”

    Amazingly, Sage’s first love was not football. Before he went to Iowa State to play football, he dreamed of pitching for the Cubs.

    Former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney never got to see the Rosenfels homestead. Sage came to one of the Iowa State football camps, and his performance there as well as in a 7-on-7 tournament was enough to convince McCarney to offer him a scholarship. Over the years, the Rosenfels family made the three-hour trip to Ames, impressing McCarney every time.

    “The parents came to the school and that’s where we met,” McCarney said. “They’re just a phenomenal family, first-class people. Sage will be special to me for that reason.

    “There wasn’t any shortage of times the Rosenfels family was in Ames, Iowa. Sage, regardless of his prowess and excellence — he never was any more important than his family. What a great job of parenting mom and dad did with all those kids.”

    Free-spirited child?

    It was not expected that each Rosenfels child would take part in sports, Sage said, but education was a given. There was no question of whether the children would go to college, just a question of where. Sage’s older sister, Jaia, attended prestigious Wellesley College in Massachusetts, overcoming brain damage and physical limitations from a 1992 auto accident. Jaffa and Jeremiah and sister Sasha all graduated from college and are successful adults, too.

    “With my parents we were going to go to college. There was no option,” Sage said. “You were going to do your best to maximize your potential, and be the best person you could.”

    While he was taught to be inquisitive and curious, Sage’s questioning nature never bumped up against resistance in the stodgy, somewhat conformist, world of football.

    “Not at all,” said current Maquoketa football coach Kevin Bowman, who taught both Sage and his wife, Maria, when they were in junior high school.

    “Cerebral probably describes him more than anything. Very coachable. Excellent student. Had him for eighth-grade language arts. Really enjoyed novels. He was a deep thinker with that.”

    McCarney said Sage was a student of football as much as with any of his business classes. As a backup, Sage asked questions about the offensive plays and the defensive coverages as though he were playing that week. McCarney said Sage never questioned the coaches for the sake of questioning, but as a means to glean information and help run each play better. When Sage became the starter as a junior, that approach helped him hit the ground running.

    “He was never defiant. He always had an inquisitive mind,” McCarney said. “We all like to think of ourselves as sponges, absorbing information, and he wanted to learn more, the reasons behind it. I never felt there was disrespect at all. It really prepared him well for life and for football with that approach.”

    Small-town values

    Growing up in a small town on a farm also gave Sage an increased awareness of the environment, both the people in it and the nature in it.

    “My parents taught us two major things: Be respectful of other people and be respectful of the environment,” he said. “If you do those things then people will respect you for it.”

    He’s taken those values from Maquoketa to a world of bling, cars, big houses, lots of women and the social life of an A-list star. Yet Sage distances himself from it. He’s married to his best friend from high school and they have two children. They live in a modest home in a suburb of Houston.

    Houston is the fourth-largest city in the U.S., a sprawling metropolis of nearly 10 million people where strip malls outnumber storefronts, and no one can get anywhere without a car. So, Sage takes it upon himself to affect a change in attitude in his organization. At his football camp in Maquoketa, he related a lengthy conversation with his friend, former Iowa and NFL receiver Tim Dwight, about building green — that is, building a structure to be sustainable and to have as little impact on the environment as possible.

    “I live in a world of a lot of a greed, big egos and self-promotion. People are more concerned with themselves than with society as a whole,” he said. “If you’re super-wealthy in this country you don’t think the environment affects you at all, but it affects everybody.

    “I’m part of a big recycling program in Houston,” he said. “I’m the team spokesman for Waste Management, and I’m always telling teammates to throw their bottles in recycling. Our playbooks every week are 2 or 3 inches thick. That’s a lot of paper, so I try to get them to print them on both sides.

    But he said he understands how some of his teammates might be slow to accept a different way of doing things.

    “Certain guys don’t grow up with that, and Iowa’s a good state for that,” he said. “Maquoketa was recycling 15 or 20 years ago, and Houston’s just now getting into it.”

    No surprise

    While Sage takes on leadership roles on and off the field for the Texans, McCarney, Bowman and others sit back and watch from a distance with a great sense of pride. Now an assistant coach at the University of Florida, McCarney said he’s not surprised with Rosenfels’ development, not only as a quarterback but as a person.

    “Nothing would surprise me with Sage,” McCarney said. “He’s got all the intangibles you could ever want.

    “I just think we need more people like that in athletics. That’s what you’re looking for, young men and young women to grab everything you possibly can out of a college experience. He was just very humble, very proud of his roots, never forgot where he came from. You love seeing that. It’s easy to cheer for Sage Rosenfels in the NFL and a lot of people cheer for Sage because of the person he is.”

    Dave Shelles can be contacted at (563) 333-2611 or

    Last edited by Wesley; 07-21-2008 at 08:45 AM.
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