Karrington Houshmandzadeh wears an unconventional number as she begins her freshman season on the LSU softball team.
But the 84 wasn't a random decision — it's the number her father T.J. Houshmandzadeh wore during his 11-year NFL career.
"My sister wears his college number, 18," Karrington said. "He never was like, ‘Oh, you have to wear my number.’ It was just a thing. When I didn’t have a number, I was just like, ‘I’ll be dad’s number,’ so it stuck."
T.J. didn't foresee himself coaching softball less than a year after his retirement from the NFL. But in 2011, he was on a rec ball sideline in California coaching Karrington and her younger sister Kennedi, a 2020 LSU commit.
T.J. just watched them for most of their first season, but soon started going to coaching clinics and attending high school practices in the California softball world. Before he knew it, he was in charge of coaching the team.
Coaching Karrington didn't last long. She said her father was "really mean" and her mother would often tell him to not yell so much.
"She wasn’t one that handled criticism very well early on," T.J. said. "I wasn’t one that bit my tongue at all. If she did something that I didn’t like, I would let her know. I said I can’t coach her or it’s going to mess up our relationship."
T.J. said that while he and Karrington butted heads, he learned from coaching her and changed his approach with his youngest daughter. Now T.J. coaches Kennedi's team travel ball team, the Firecrackers-TJ Housh, one of the best club softball teams in the nation.
"And I’m still like that today at times, where I ride them too hard," T.J. said. "But they know now that I do what’s best for them. I’m a competitor. Everything I do, I do to win. Whether I win or not, you’re going to get my best shot."
Even though softball and football are two very different sports, all sports have the same overall message that T.J. passed on to Karrington and Kennedi — that failure is inevitable, but what matters is how you respond to that failure.
He encouraged them to let that failure drive them.
"It’s a team game," T.J. said. "You have to support your teammates and you want somebody to support you, too. Teammates that are down, you pick them up. Try not to let the team down when they’re counting on you.
Karrington said T.J. fully immersed himself into softball and the culture of the sport by doing all the research he possibly could, going to the best trainers and buying the best equipment.
But being a great softball player or even a great athlete involves more than the product they had, Karrington said.
As a dad and as a coach, T.J. always told his daughters one thing: "Whatever you do, you do to be the best. If you’re not doing it to be the best, why are you doing it?"
That mentality made for a competitive household.
"You never want the other sibling to beat you," Karrington said. "We [she and Kennedi] are so close, we’re only two years apart. So if I let her beat me, she thought she was better than me. So I had to beat her. She’s good, she’s coming here in two years, so it’ll be fun to have her."
Even so, Kennedi and Karrington are close, and they don't even play the same position, leaving more fun for the sisters on the field.
T.J. said "a game equals competition and competition is always fun."
Competition is one of the main reasons the sisters both chose LSU, a school thousands of miles away from their home in California.
"For [Karrington], it was about going to LSU and competing with girls who really play all the time," T.J. said. "That’s the thing — Beth [Torina], Howard [Dobson], Lindsay [Leftwich] — they can push [Kennedi and Karrington] because they’ve been run in the dirt by me. They can handle that."
The Tigers are consistently one of the best teams in the nation, making four of the last six Women's College World Series.
TJ said he got a "good vibe" from head coach Beth Torina and the staff because of their realness and honesty. The staff care about them as a person and as a player.
Karrington and Kennedi liked LSU so much that they wanted to commit on the day of their official visit. T.J. and their mother Kaci told them to wait to make a decision and make more visits.
The decision never wavered. It was always LSU.
"There’s just something about Beth and her coaching staff that when you take a trip to LSU, it’s damn near impossible if they offer you not to come," T.J. said. "I was like, ‘I might to come LSU my damn self.’ That’s just the honest truth."
Torina and her staff have a way of getting the best out of their players.
Karrington said that Torina can get her to the next level.
"I told [Karrington] that you want to play with and against the best, period," T.J. said. "You can go play the ‘Sisters of the North,’ but what do you get out of that? Nothing. It’s as simple as that. So Karrington, with her size and speed and strength, I’m eager to see how she does."