As Shaun Christensen makes his way off the practice field, he looks like any other high school football player. His hair is matted with sweat as he squeezes off his helmet, and each breath comes hard after a heavy workout that ended with numerous wind sprints.
But Christensen is different from most high school athletes. If not unique, he's at least in a distinct minority. When the Royal High quarterback heads for home, he is greeted by his family. That is, his wife and his child.
Christensen rates as the busiest man on the Royal High campus in Simi Valley. The 6-1, 185-pound senior is the quarterback and placekicker on the football team and is captain and a midfielder on the soccer team. Those responsibilities pale next to his duties at home, however, where he serves as husband and now father. With Christensen assisting in the natural childbirth, he and his wife Rozanne, 18, a graduated Royal cheerleader, welcomed Bradley Jay into the world Sept. 17. Shaun and Rozanne, who have dated since junior high, were married in March.
They even went on a honeymoon although both were still in school. The newlyweds spent four days in Pismo Beach after exchanging vows at her parents home March 6. When the couple returned to school the following Monday, the news was out.
"When we came back to school, everybody knew; the whole world knew," Christensen said. "But we figured that people were going to know. We weren't going to keep it a secret."
And that's how Shaun and Rozanne have handled the situation, openly and above board. No secrets, no hiding.
"My parents were shocked at first," Christensen said. "Rozie and I didn't want to have an abortion, and we decided to get married. I decided to be a man about it."
Perhaps that's why he and his new family have received so much support from the Royal High community.
"It took a lot of guts and courage to make the decision to get married," Royal Coach Tom West said. "A lot of people are going to question it, but Shaun hasn't run away from the situation."
Said Royal Principal John Fitzpatrick: "Shaun has taken on his responsibilities and handled everything very well. This is something to be proud of."
That claim rates as a mild upset. Obviously, the news of Rozanne's pregnancy and the decision to marry hit both families hard. The Christensens and Rollins live in the same neighborhood and are members of the same Mormon church.
"We were strict parents on each side," Shaun's mother, Karen, said. "We knew Shaun and Rozanne were very close and we couldn't keep them apart. Trying to stop their love was like trying to stop a wave from hitting the beach."
Shaun's parents feared that the marriage would derail Shaun's education and his quest for a college scholarship. Christensen has drawn interest as a football and soccer player. He has received letters from USC, Oregon, Arizona and Rice, among others.
"That's the whole reason for sports, so Shaun could get a scholarship," his mother said. "That's why we were blown through the wall about having a 17-year-old father.
"But I'm finding out that Rozanne supports Shaun in the same way. She's saying, 'I want you to get to school and I'll help you.' "
"I knew his parents were scared," Rozanne said. "They thought I wanted Shaun all to myself, but I want him to succeed. It's just like people figured that I wouldn't finish school after we were married. But that's not the way we were going to handle it."
Rozanne, who graduated in June, and Shaun have tried to carry on with their lives as normally as possible.
"I try to take it in stride," Shaun said. "This is my life now."
But how normal can life be when daddy is a high school quarterback? Along with homework, football games and pep rallies, Shaun must deal with 3 o'clock feedings and paying the bills. He works part time at night as a salesman for a home improvement company, and the couple receives help with the rent for their one-bedroom apartment from both sets of parents.
Those closest to him say the experience of the past months has changed Christensen. He has matured and become a better leader on the field, and the team has rallied behind him, teammates say.
Many Highlanders have visited the Christensens and seen the baby, and senior running back Ralph Blanks toasted Bradley Jay at the team dinner before last weekend's Agoura game.
"I can see the change in Shaun--he takes life more seriously," Blanks said. "I admire him and Rozanne and their courage. I just turned 18 and I don't know if I could take that challenge."
Christensen also serves as an inspiration on the field, Blanks said.
"I look at him in the huddle and I'm tired, ready to cash it in, and he says, 'Come on guys, let's score.' He gives me extra drive. He never stops fighting," he said.
Despite that inspiration, Royal is 1-2 with two straight losses. Christensen has completed 25 of 43 for 313 and 4 touchdowns. But statistics have nothing to do with Royal's two losses, according to Rozanne.
"I missed the last two games and that's why they lost," she joked.
Those were the first games she missed in Christensen's high school career. She even attended Royal's 20-0 season-opening win over Buena, five days before she gave birth.
"When Shaun got sacked I jumped up and everyone around got me real nervous," she said. "They thought I was headed for the hospital or something."
The Christensens didn't head to the hospital that night, but they headed home together, another difference in their lives.
"It's different now because my teammates can go out and party and pick up on women," said Christensen, who doesn't recommend marriage at his age.
"I wouldn't brag about marriage at my young age. It's not all joy. It's like marriage. You get into fights," he said.
Still he has no regrets, and seems happy.
"We get along," he said as he played with his 10-day-old son. "It's a good marriage. We're out on our own. It's almost scary but it isn't. And we have fun."