As Christmas approaches, the story of Tyler Hawkins might provide a little inspiration for those who wonder whether today's teenagers are up for the task of being tomorrow's leaders.
Hawkins, the standout linebacker for Southern Section Division II football champion Canyon Country Canyon, was dressed in a suit and tie last week for an interview.
He's trying to obtain an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. Then he wants to become a Navy SEAL, one of the toughest organizations in the world to join.
A 50-week training course washes out nearly 80% of its participants and includes 57 hours of being submerged in cold water, 1,310 miles of running with boots on in sand and 150 miles of ocean swimming.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge, but Coach [Harry] Welch has given me the tools that will help -- fortitude, courage, determination and passion," Hawkins said. "I use them everywhere -- in the classroom, on the football field, at home."
Hawkins has a 4.3 grade-point average and is on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout. He's a 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior who had nine tackles in the Division II final and was a first-team All-Foothill League honoree.
"Tyler is as focused, intense, committed, intelligent, involved and as caring as anyone we've ever had," Welch said. "In the championship game, no one played better than Tyler. He was all over the field. He was making sacks, making plays in the secondary and playing sideline to sideline against the run."
Hawkins hopes his football career isn't over. He wants to play at Navy, but he has no complaints about what he has accomplished in high school.
"How perfect is it ending your high school football career winning a CIF championship and beating your league rival and your other league rival twice in the same year," he said.
The way Hawkins performs on and off the field is one reason the 60-year-old Welch has no plans to retire any time soon.
"This young man epitomizes the best in high school athletics," Welch said.
Hawkins loves to sail, so joining the Navy is something that intrigues him, along with family tradition. A grandfather spent close to 40 years in the Navy.
"It's been in my genes, and I find it a great honor to serve in times like these," he said.
These are times when graduates of military academies are being sent off to war, raising the risks and worrying parents everywhere.
"They obviously have fears," Hawkins said of his parents, "but they give me support."
Said Hawkins' father, Bill: "We're very proud for him to want to fulfill that role. He's a real bright kid and could go in any direction he wants. It's nice he's made up his mind."
Hawkins doesn't seem concerned about 5 a.m. revelry or receiving a grilling from a red-faced petty officer.
"I'm definitely up for it," he said. "I'm used to getting up early and getting yelled at. It can't be any worse than what I get from Coach Welch."
Football is only a sport, but it has helped prepare Hawkins for the life he wants to live, serving his country.
\o7Eric Sondheimer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.