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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

High school scholar-athletes' success stories

National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame banquets recognize accomplishments on and off the field.

March 28, 2011|Eric Sondheimer
  • Golden Valley High scholar-athlete Sean Tate.
Golden Valley High scholar-athlete Sean Tate. (Golden Valley High School )

The TV networks could be scrambling for programming if the NFL lockout lasts into the fall, which is a good reason someone with a video camera should be showing up to the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame scholar-athlete banquets to tape the inspiring stories of teenagers making a difference on and off the field.

From Orange County to San Bernardino County, from the San Fernando Valley to the San Gabriel Valley, dozens of high school seniors are having their accomplishments recognized this month. They come from private schools and public schools, big schools and small schools. They've learned through football and education that anything is possible.

Sean Tate from Santa Clarita Golden Valley is set to receive the most improved grade-point average award at the San Fernando Valley chapter banquet on Tuesday night. He went from having a 1.83 GPA the first semester of his sophomore year to a 3.83 GPA the first 10 weeks of his senior year.

"I stopped caring about school, which wasn't a good idea at all," he said.

Enter a new coach, Andy Campbell, who placed his trust in Tate, a linebacker, and showed him the road to success.

"I learned what hard work is and what it takes to be successful," Tate said.

Last fall, Tate was elected Golden Valley's team captain. He ended up being the team's most valuable player. He said he wants to "serve my country" by joining the Air Force and becoming an electrical engineer.

"Having a great coach behind you is powerful and changes your life," Tate said.

Burbank quarterback Adam Colman has never received a grade other than A on his report card in high school. He scored a 5 on the Advanced Placement calculus exam.

Newhall Hart linebacker Hayden Scott has been a lifeguard and swimmer while earning a 3.95 GPA and sacking quarterbacks. He also has tutored elementary school students on how to play chess.

As for his football experience, he said, "It taught me respect for coaches, taught me how to think on my feet and plan for something that I'm not sure is coming."

At the Los Angeles banquet held this month, more than 60 athletes were honored, and their achievements were stunning.

There were so many players with black belts in karate and taekwondo that they could have held an exhibition in the middle of the hotel banquet hall. There were pianists, Eagle Scouts, guitarists and community service volunteers galore.

Larry Feygin, a defensive end from Palos Verdes Chadwick, plays the alto sax in the school orchestra, is head gardener for the Environmental Club, speaks French and is a gourmet chef who's going to study at Cornell or Carnegie Mellon.

Brendan Sofen, the kicker at Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, is headed to Princeton after compiling a 4.0 GPA. He served as a volunteer driver for a Catholic nun.

Juan Garcia, a fullback from Torrance Pacific Lutheran, is an Eagle Scout who helped build homes in Tijuana and received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy.

But if anyone deserves a standing ovation, it's the captain of Reseda's football team, linebacker Freddy Lopez. He and his family were homeless for more than a year when he was a sophomore. He lived in a family friend's garage with his mother, father and two sisters.

"Football was my outlet," he said. "Every day, my parents reassured me everything would be all right."

Lopez never let his adversity diminish his positive attitude. He will be honored Tuesday as Reseda's scholar-athlete winner. He's headed to Morehouse College, where he plans to study kinesiology or business administration. And he will never forget what football did for him.

"The thing about football is it allowed me to forget about everything," he said. "All my emotions, I got to leave on the field every day."

The Reseda science magnet coordinator, Shauna Lehtihalme, said, "Freddy Lopez never stops smiling — ever."

Good luck to the NFL players on their settlement talks, but if you want real inspiration, go meet the scholar-athlete winners from the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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