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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Santa Ana Valley's Mason Knows Score

September 20, 2002|Eric Sondheimer

Something extraordinary happened to Santa Ana Valley High running back Cliff Mason last March.

He scored 1,510 on the SAT, the highest of any junior on campus. Making his accomplishment more startling was that he's a C student.

"There are A students who can't get that score," counselor Kathy Ochoa said.

College football recruiters dropping by last spring rolled their eyes in disbelief. They wondered how a 17-year-old can earn a perfect score of 800 on the math portion of the SAT but get a C in chemistry.

"It's more me not doing my work," Mason said.

If Mason's grade-point average weren't 2.6 beginning his senior year, he might have every Ivy League school recruiting him for football, considering he rushed for 1,106 yards last season and runs 40 yards in 4.5 seconds.

"I realized I shut the door to a lot of options," he said.

But the doors could be reopening. He rushed for 227 yards in a 16-14 season-opening loss to Anaheim Canyon last week. And Mason is vowing to raise his GPA this year.

Mason never loses his commitment in football. Optional practices aren't optional. During the summer, he was running up and down stairs at a local junior college, running hills in Costa Mesa, running along the sand of Huntington Beach and lifting weights at school.

At 5 feet 10 and 195 pounds, he's the strongest player at Santa Ana Valley.

"I know if I apply myself, I can achieve any of my goals," Mason said.

Mason's father, Cliff Sr., an ex-Marine, spent years lecturing his son on the importance of good grades to help him reach college. When Cliff Sr. saw his son's SAT score, it validated his belief in his son's academic potential.

"It's pretty frustrating," Cliff Sr. said. "I know he can do it. He's done it in the past. He thinks football alone will do it for him. Hopefully, he'll realize."

Mason had motivation for the SAT. He made a lunch bet with Ochoa that he'd score at least 1,400 and studied far more extensively than he did for any of his regular classes.

"He studied like there was no tomorrow," Ochoa said.

When the results arrived by mail, Mason wasn't surprised.

"When I took the test, it didn't seem too difficult," he said.

Ochoa has Mason's SAT score framed in her office.

"I still owe him lunch," she said. "I know how much he eats. I'm going to have to take him when I get paid."

Cliff Sr. is hoping his son's success with the SAT will encourage him to focus more on school.

"The ball is in his court," he said. "I've said all I can say and done all I can do. You can only preach the sermon so many times."

Mason is filled with untapped potential, both in football and in the classroom.

He hopes to earn a 3.5 GPA in his senior year to help his college chances. He wants to become a commercial pilot if a football career doesn't work out. There are subtle signs he's starting to understand what is required to reach his goals.

Asked what he'd tell freshmen about high school, he said, "I'd have a lot to say. I'd tell them, 'Grades are more important than anything else. Pay attention to your studies.' If I had done that since freshman year, we wouldn't be discussing this."

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Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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