Ishmael Adams has come home after spending most of his 17 years living in Georgia.
Born in Inglewood, he left as an infant, learned about Southern hospitality, got used to sweating as soon as he walked outside and picked up a passion for football.
He returned to Southern California last year as a junior, enrolling at Westlake Village Oaks Christian, and came in with a reputation for being a top running back.
But as the 2011 season begins, Adams has become known as one of the best cornerbacks in California.
"I love playing the position," he said. "I think it's a better chance to get me where I want to be, which is in the NFL one day. I have to keep that drive and hunger, and I can get there. I know I can."
His father, Stefon, played six seasons in the NFL, but credit for getting Adams involved in football belongs to his mother, Febe.
Adams said he tried to quit football at the ages of 7, 8 and 9 because he wanted to play basketball.
"My mom told me after the last year I tried to quit I can't quit anymore," Adams said. "I took that to heart. I never wanted to quit again. It's a passion now. It's not just something to do. It's not a hobby. I love playing the sport."
At 5 feet 10 and 182 pounds, Adams uses speed, technique and physical play to take on top receivers. He was a member of the state championship 400-meter relay team for Oaks Christian last spring. When he goes up to receivers at the line of scrimmage and stares them in the eyes, they know they're about to face a focused, determined competitor.
"It's a great feeling if you're up to the challenge," he said. "You just have to come out and play your best. You can't control that many things. You control how you transition, how you play the ball, your effort. It's the hardest position on the field, because you're guarding the fastest player on offense."
Oaks Christian defensive coordinator Mark Bates has come to appreciate Adams' competitiveness and ability to react.
"He likes to go against the best," Bates said. "In the most competitive games or the closest games, he wants to play his best."
Cornerback is a position where embarrassment can come at any moment, and the player can't get down when it happens. Adams is learning how to deal with the ups and downs.
"We all make mistakes, and you have to have short-term memory," he said. "The best get embarrassed. How you react makes you the best."
Added Bates: "He doesn't make excuses when he gets beat. If something bad happens, he lets it go and comes back the next play and tries to make something happen."
College recruiters are pursuing Adams in growing numbers, and it might help if the schools are based in California.
"I'm loving living in California," he said.
In Georgia, he learned to say, "Yes sir, no sir" and when he walks in front of somebody, "Excuse me."
He has retained his politeness since moving back to California, and he's happy to help pick up an opponent he has knocked down on the football field.