T.J. Conley succeeded in both high school and college athletic arenas during his playing days at DeSales High School and the University of Idaho.
Now he is doing his best to help Eastern Washington University football and basketball players achieve at the highest level as the school’s assistant strength and conditioning coach.
Conley, in his second year at EWU, played football, basketball, and baseball at DeSales.
He was starting quarterback from 2000-03 and led the Irish to four playoff berths _ two of which ended with appearances in the Class B state championship game (2001, 2003).
“I idolized the players that came before me — Joe Levens, Brian Lindgren,” Conley said. “I just wanted to be like those guys. It was nice to live out that dream with great coaches, great teammates, and great people. Whenever I dream football, I dream about wearing the green and gold at DeSales.”
Conley played basketball for three seasons and was part of four state champion baseball teams from 2001-04. He did not play hoops his senior year — during a state tournament season — due to a broken leg suffered in the state championship football game.
“(Former football coach) Mike Spiess was amazing,” Conley said. “(Coach) Greg Fazzari was awesome. He taught me so much about discipline. It was amazing playing for (former baseball coach) Kim Cox.
“(Cox) gave us a chance to be that good of a team,” Conley said. “He taught us mental toughness. We had that mindset that we were going to win.
“We had great athletes like Brian Hall and Marshall Donnelly,” Conley said. “With that level of coaching and that level of play, we annihilated our competition.”
Conley participated in football from 2004-08 at Idaho and played for three different coaches — Nick Holt, Dennis Erickson, and Rob Akey.
He envisioned being the Vandals’ starting quarterback before fate steered him toward special teams.
“I was messing around before practice one day and the coaches saw me punting,” Conley said. “I then punted during the special teams period (of practice).”
This resulted in punting permanency for the civil engineering major.
Conley, who spent time as a safety and scout team QB as well, achieved widespread acclaim for his senior-year punting efforts.
He was named to three first-teams — All-America, Academic All-America, and All Western Athletic Conference. Conley was also honored by the NCAA for posting the nation’s top punting average, was a U of I Scholar Athlete, and special teams Player of the Year.
“I built so many great relationships,” Conley said. “I have life-long friends that I stay in touch with to this day.”
Dreams of a lengthy NFL career went unrealized. Conley made the New York Jets roster in 2011 after two off-seasons and training camps with the team. He competed for jobs with the Jets, Cleveland Browns, and Cincinnati Bengals from 2012-14 to no avail.
“It was stressful looking back on it,” Conley said. “I struggled more mentally than I did physically. I was trying to live up to expectations, but didn’t have the self confidence I should have.”
Conley “started to find” himself after meeting with a sports psychologist. He got married and became a father near the end of his career.
“Football wasn’t going to define me,” Conley said. “Football didn’t make me or break me.”
Conley landed a job at Spokane’s U District Performance Training and worked with both college and pro athletes. He coached kickers and long snappers at Whitworth prior to his current haunt.
“I was blessed with amazing leaders that helped shape me into the coach I am now,” Conley said. “I fell in love with the process of getting my body ready for peak performance and how to train.”
Conley said he considers himself “extremely lucky.”
“I received a lot of support from my parents, family, teachers, and coaches,” Conley said. “I’ve tried to build on top of that foundation. I learned and grew as much as I could and tried to be like the people around me. I owe all my success to people around me that helped get me where I am.”