Bernard Jackson, a top senior quarterback at Corona Santiago High, required more than a little jolt to change his life. He needed a new parent.
At 12, Jackson was headed for trouble. He lived in a crime-ridden neighborhood of Venice, where, through the years, four family members had been shot. He was receiving little supervision or guidance from his father, Bernard Sr.
"I was always, 'I'm standing over here, I'm going over here, I'll be back in a week,' " he said.
The one fear he had was a warning that if he messed up, "You're going to live with your brother, the drill sergeant."
It finally happened when the Department of Children and Social Services revoked custody from his father and sent him and his younger sister, Tasia, to stay with their half brother, Brian, a former Marine, instead of their mother.
"It was a surprise because I thought my dad would do what he had to do in order to keep them," Brian said.
Bernard Sr. was devastated.
"I cried that night," he said. "I couldn't take it."
Brian was 20 years older than Bernard Jr. and had just finished his stint with the Marines.
"I had gone from being in the streets, being a wild guy, to joining the Marines and turning my life around," he said. "Going back into the neighborhood and seeing my brother and sister on a collision course with the same lifestyle I had, I was concerned."
Brian was living in a two-bedroom apartment in Lake Forest with his wife and two young sons. The timing was not right to take in two soon-to-be teenagers in an already crammed apartment. But he did.
"We knew nothing about them," Brian said. "We didn't know their habits, what they liked or not. My boys had Marine haircuts, wore pants with a belt and had their shirts tucked in. Bernard had sagging pants."
Bernard Jr. suddenly faced rules and regulations never expected of him.
"He wants to be treated like a man and I told him he has to earn that, and it starts with simple things, being disciplined, being responsible, having integrity," Brian said. "Early on, I had to ask him, 'When are you going to stop lying?' "
Five years later, after Brian moved his family into a house in Corona, Bernard Jr. is entering his senior year at Santiago. He is a 6-foot-1 quarterback who has received scholarship offers from Nebraska and Kansas State. He has matured into a trustworthy, respectful 17-year-old under the strict discipline established by his brother.
"If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be here," Bernard Jr. said. "I'd be locked up or dead. I can't thank him enough for allowing me to become the person I am."
Even Bernard's father now praises the decision to place his son with Brian.
"It was definitely for the best," he said. "It was like a godsend."
Bernard Jr. has become a role model for Brian's boys, ages 9 and 12.
"They think the world of Bernard," Brian said. "He's like their idol. I really think because of the type of person I know Bernard can be, he's my hero in the making. He's not perfect, but he's a great kid and is a really good person and a gifted athlete. He made the transition from being totally free to stepping into a Marine staff sergeant's household."
Brian still retains tight supervision over Bernard Jr., imposing curfews, not allowing telephone calls past 9 p.m. on school days and restricting time for television. But he understands that, in a matter of months, Bernard will be on his own and having to make his own decisions.
"Some people think I'm expecting perfection out of him," Brian said. "I want him to communicate. I want integrity. If you screw up, let me know. This is something I saw in Bernard as a young kid. I knew under the right circumstances, he could flourish."
As a quarterback with 4.6 speed in the 40 yards, Bernard passed for 924 yards and 12 touchdowns, rushed for 551 yards and scored seven touchdowns last season. He guided Santiago to a 49-0 victory over Garden Grove Santiago in a season opener last week.
"As soon as I put pads on, it was something I wanted to do every minute," he said. "It was an inspiration in my life."
Bernard Sr. travels from Inglewood to Corona on Friday nights to watch Bernard Jr. play football.
Bernard Jr. refuses to criticize his father for failing to fulfill his parental responsibilities.
"I don't want to tell you he's a bad person because he's not," he said. "I love my father to death. He wasn't ready for it."
Enter the Marine-trained brother who provided leadership, love and guidance.
"My brother has taught me how to become a man," Bernard Jr. said. "I don't know how to explain it, but it's great."
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at email@example.com.