Seahawks rookie cornerback Richard Sherman comes to the line of scrimmage… (Jonathan Daniel / Getty…)
A new year produces new goals, new dreams, new obstacles for high school athletes. Many are seeking a path to success. Let me introduce three adults who can be role models on how to proceed.
From Compton to Stanford to NFL
Richard Sherman is an NFL defensive back for the Seattle Seahawks. His story is unlike any other I've uncovered in more than 35 years of writing about high school athletes in Southern California.
He went to Compton Dominguez, a school not necessarily known for turning out academic superstars. He earned a scholarship to Stanford to play football. He got his degree and is close to completing work on a master's. He made it to the NFL.
To say that his parents are proud of him would be an understatement.
"It was all on him," Sherman's father, Kevin, said. "I just kept on him. He did all the tough stuff. I made sure he didn't get attracted to the wrong crowds and the wrong people. This is what he wanted his whole life . . . to be educated and play a sport he loved."
How can a kid grow up in Compton and show he's a great student, a great person and a great athlete?
"It's a long shot," his father said. "He loves to be a role model to kids. He figures any kid can do what he did with a little hard work."
From gold medalist to coach
In the 1980s, one of the most extraordinary track runners in the history of Los Angeles emerged from Woodland Hills Taft. Quincy Watts lived seven miles away in Canoga Park and was raised by his father and grandmother.
"I came from a family where my dad was a hard worker and the only way to get to school was I had to walk to Taft or catch the bus," Watts said. "It's a humbling experience. It's teaching you responsibility at an early age. There's a routine you had to manage, get up in the morning, eat a little breakfast, get to the bus stop in time so you can get to school on time."
Watts, the best City Section sprinter in a generation, could have run to school pretty fast.
"That was the longest seven miles of my life," he said. "I made sure I had enough time to catch the bus."
He won state championships in the 100 and 200 meters for Taft in 1987, became an NCAA 400-meter champion at USC and won two gold medals at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, setting an Olympic record in the 400.
He went on to coach high school athletes and is an assistant track coach at Cal State Northridge. His father, Rufus, died two years ago, but Watts still remembers the greatest moment of his father's life, when Rufus saw Quincy graduate from USC in 1993 and become the first family member to earn a college degree.
"The only thing I could do that had nothing to do with money was go get my education and be a man of my word," Watts said.
Education enabled him to stay prosperous long after his athletic days ended, and now he's trying to teach the same lessons to others.
From surfing to inspiring
In the world of surfing, receiving a Surfer Poll Award is the equivalent of an Academy Award. Alex Gray, who graduated from Peninsula High in Rolling Hills Estates in 2004, was chosen in 2011 as the winner of the Barrel Award, which means he rode the biggest wave imaginable right when the wave is hollow and breaking.
He's a professional surfer traveling the world looking for the largest waves. But he returns to his neighborhood to give talks to middle school and high school students in memory of his older brother, Chris, who died from a heroin overdose when Gray was 17.
In his acceptance speech for the Barrel Award, Gray said, "He was the one who introduced me to surfing. When he passed away, I thought I'd never be able to surf again. Thank God for friends. Without him, I would not have this amazing gift of surfing."
Reached on Friday paddling somewhere in the Hawaiian islands, Gray said, "Life isn't easy and you have to acknowledge it and move forward. I try to tell kids to be themselves and if they have a dream to do everything to try to fulfill it."
Three individuals in sports providing inspiration for teenagers in 2012.