Beneath his 210-lb., GQ-show-cased physique, Jason Sehorn is a mama's boy and proud of it. "She sacrificed 18 years of her life," says the New York Giants' star cornerback, 28, of his mother, Nancy Alexander, a single parent who scrimped endlessly to raise him on a beautician's salary. "There were two words we couldn't use in the house—'can't' and 'never.' "

Though Sehorn has come a long way from the days when his family lived a block from the welfare office in Sacramento—he is, after all, dating sultry Angie Harmon of Law & Order—he's still convinced that Mother knew best. Especially during the past year, as he has struggled to recover from both a devastating August 1998 knee injury, which forced him to miss all of last season, and the breakup of his marriage to his college sweetheart. "When all is said and done, Jason probably works harder than anyone we've ever had here," says Giants coach Jim Fassel of his marquee player, who stirred some controversy with his seemingly omnipresent pitches—for Nike, Charles Schwab and others—at a time when he hadn't even put on a uniform for a season. "He's a solid person with good values."

Sehorn isn't exactly chopped pigskin at cornerback either. "While he initially attracted interest as a novelty—Sehorn, the Giants' second round draft pick in 1994, became the first white starter at his position since 1989—he quickly proved he had game. His size paired with his speed allow him to handle the game's biggest, fastest, most dangerous receivers. "He can play physical with them," says TV analyst Phil Simms. "He can cover guys like Keyshawn Johnson."

Shouldering responsibility is nothing new for Sehorn. At 9, he was escorting his 2-year-old half brother, Colby, across Sacramento on city buses to and from preschool so that their mother could put in longer hours to send them both to private school. (She had divorced Mike Sehorn, a truck driver, when Jason was 2; Colby was the child of a brief second marriage.) Seven years later, when the family moved 221 miles north to Mt. Shasta, Calif.—which Alexander felt would be a better place for the boys to grow up in—he had to care for Colby three and four days at a time while their mother worked in Sacramcnto. Says Alexander, now 50 and, like her sons, an observant Christian: "Jason knows problems are there so we can find solutions."

Compared with the challenges of daily life, Sehorn says his sports career "just popped in my lap." After high school he went to the University of Southern California, where he was a standout defensive back. That's also where he met Whitney Casey, whom he married on Valentine's Day, 1998.-But the relationship quickly developed strains because, as Casey puts it, "maturitywise, we weren't ready." When Sehorn tore the ligaments in his right knee six months later, "I was actually excited," recalls Casey, now 24 and a TV reporter in Macon, Ga. "I thought maybe this would be the best thing for us because we would be able to slow down." It didn't work out that way, and by November they had split.

As soon as the season ended, Sehorn fled the four-bedroom home in Teaneck, N.J., that his wife had decorated and headed back to Southern California to heal. "He didn't break down and cry," says his mother. "But I know that his heart was broken." (Now divorced, Sehorn and Casey insist they're still friends.)

Six-day-a-week training sessions with fitness guru Marv Marinovich and speed coach Kevin McNair got Sehorn back in shape to defend his CBS Superstars title—successfully—in February, and he returned to the Giants lineup this September. But it took him a bit longer to find his way back into the dating game. After Se-horn's marriage broke up, teammate Michael Strahan had tried to introduce him to Harmon, 27, a longtime friend, but Sehorn dragged his heels. Then, after a game in mid-September, Sehorn's mother spied the actress waiting for Strahan and his wife and went over to introduce herself, with Jason in tow. "I told him, 'You really want to meet her,' " Alexander says with a smile. " 'Trust me on this one.' " Says Sehorn of Harmon: "I couldn't be happier. Things are great."

Once again, apparently, Mother knew best.

Pam Lambert
Cynthia Wang in Teaneck, Grace Lim in Miami and Joseph V. Tirella in NYC

  • Contributors:
  • Cynthia Wang,
  • Grace Lim,
  • Joseph V. Tirella.