Of all the players in this weekend's 15 high school football championship games, Malik Felton of Anaheim Servite has become the best example of what can happen when patience, perseverance and hard work come together.
"I was an unknown receiver," Felton said of his preseason status.
A series of injuries to Servite's running backs forced coaches to search for a replacement. By game seven, Felton got his chance, and Servite's opponents are still trying to figure out who he is and where he came from.
He rushed for 196 yards against Bellflower St. John Bosco, then 194 yards against Santa Ana Mater Dei. He rushed for 159 yards against Santa Margarita and 139 yards against Orange Lutheran. These aren't just any teams. They are the best of the best from the Trinity League.
"I didn't know I had this in me, to be honest," he said.
Everything about Felton is genuine, from his belief that team comes first to his insistence that he knew one day, he'd get his opportunity to shine.
"I got moved to help the team," he said. "It was a coach's decision because I was willing to do anything. I told them again, I'll do anything for the team."
And so Felton, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound senior with sprinter-like speed, has become an invaluable offensive weapon for Servite (13-0), a winner of 24 consecutive games and bidding for its second consecutive Pac-5 championship on Saturday against Mission Viejo (13-0) at Angel Stadium.
"The impact he's had has been tremendous," Coach Troy Thomas said. "He gives us that breakaway threat. He can go the distance any time because of his speed."
His mother, Carolyn Jackson, is proud of her son, but not because he has suddenly become a standout. Her pride emanates from his patience to always be ready to contribute whether the coach calls his name or not.
"I told him to keep pushing," she said. "Words can't explain how excited I am for him."
She has raised him as a single parent. Every day, they take a moment to hug.
"Every day, we say we love each other, game or no game," she said.
Servite fans who hear a woman screaming from the stands know who it is.
"I am a big mouth sometimes," she said.
Added Malik: "I can hear her in the stands and I'm like, 'Wow.'"
He knows that his mother is proud because he has seen her in tears after games.
Teammates, such as offensive lineman Troy Niklas, have been among Felton's biggest supporters.
"I played with him from age 7 ," Niklas said. "I always knew he had it in him, and he just needed a chance. He took that chance and ran with it. He works, works, works, and it finally paid off. He deserves everything he's been given."
He enters Saturday's game with 1,191 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, and Thomas has to explain where Felton came from.
"We felt having two running backs back from a state championship team, the best thing to do was move him to receiver and have all those guys on the field at the same time," he said. "Well, God has a different plan. Two of those guys got hurt, so we had to move Malik back to running back. He's stepped up and fulfilled his potential as a running back."
Said Felton: "I'm just blessed to have this opportunity."