Blessed with what his coach calls a "million-dollar smile," quarterback Keith Price of Bellflower St. John Bosco moves around a football field generating positive energy like few others.
He puts his arm around a receiver, offering encouragement. He raises his arms in triumph after throwing a pass that hits the crossbar. He removes his helmet for a photographer and lets onlookers tease him.
His charm, enthusiasm and laughter are contagious, inspiring teammates to reciprocate with their own smiles and dedicate themselves to helping him succeed.
It's what leadership is all about, and Price is a 17-year-old senior whose athletic ability and love of the game make him one of the most valuable players in the Southland.
He's 6 feet 2 and 185 pounds, runs 40 yards in 4.65 seconds and has a scholarship waiting for him at Washington. He has been sleeping with a football since he was a baby and sees nothing wrong with telling everyone, "I have a nerf one that you can play with in the tub."
Last season, he ran for more touchdowns (nine) than he passed for (six), leading some to question whether he really had a future playing quarterback at the next level.
Those who didn't pay attention to his improvement during the summer look foolish now.
In his first game, in Hawaii against Kamehameha, he ran for 101 yards and one touchdown and passed for 110 yards and one touchdown. In his second game, against La Verne Damien, he completed 13 of 16 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns.
Last week, against Long Beach Cabrillo, he was eight for 10 for 190 yards and three touchdowns. He has led No. 23-ranked St. John Bosco to a 3-0 start going into tonight's game against visiting Los Angeles Loyola (2-1), ranked No. 15 by The Times.
"He runs as well as any skill player and passes as well as the best passer," Coach Kiki Mendoza said.
Because Price plays in the same Trinity League as the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect, Matt Barkley of Santa Ana Mater Dei, he is needled constantly by his friends.
"You know Barkley is the best player in your league," they remind him.
"I giggle at it," he said.
Not that he doesn't have respect for Barkley.
"I was with him at the USC camp," he said. "He's a great quarterback."
But it's time to recognize Price's dual-threat skills.
"Nobody really heard about me last season," he said. "My Uncle Bo always told me, 'Somebody is going to end up hearing about you.' I understand why I wasn't getting publicity. We weren't winning. We were 3-6 last year."
It was Price's motivation all summer to do whatever it took to become better.
"I worked real hard -- running, lifting, 6 a.m. workouts, camps -- I was even training the freshmen every day," he said.
Price, who grew up in Compton and lives with his grandparents in Long Beach, exudes optimism, and he credits his grandmother, Gail Manuel, and his mother, Shaundra, for instilling in him the values he intends to carry in the future.
"My grandmother and mom are everything to me," he said. "My grandma is such a positive person. . . . I can talk to my mom about anything. She's a strong woman."
For those who don't understand how sports competition can help empower teenagers, see the impact it has made on Price.
There's more to the Thompson family of Santa Margarita than basketball. Yes, father Mychal Thompson was the No. 1 pick in the 1978 NBA draft. And two of his sons, Mychel and Klay, are playing basketball for Pepperdine and Washington State, respectively. But the youngest in the family, Trayce, a senior at Santa Margarita, has decided baseball is his sport. He's an outfielder who has committed to UCLA.
Trayce was an important contributor for Santa Margarita's state Division III championship basketball team last season.
"Baseball has always been his first love," basketball Coach Jerry DeBusk said. "He told me it's been his dream to be a major league player."
The Los Angeles Unified School District paid the Josephson Institute $194,030 for a one-year contract that ran out Wednesday. What did the district get? Three-hour training sessions for 1,350 coaches and middle-school intramural coordinators, four presentations by Michael Josephson, preseason and postseason surveys for coaches and athletes, and subscriptions to the Character Counts newsletter.
That's a lot of money to spend on trying to teach sportsmanship and instill character education in athletes, coaches and school administrators. Let's hope it worked.