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Chaminade linebacker has right stuff to start in Ivy League

Chaminade linebacker Max Holden has right stuff for Ivy League

Sometimes high school football players need a reminder that getting to college involves more than just how fast they can run or how much weight they lift.

One player who has learned the lesson is Max Holden, a senior linebacker who started all 16 games last season for defending Division II state bowl champion West Hills Chaminade.

Last week, Holden was stuck on the sideline for the Eagles' season opener, still waiting for an injured shoulder to heal. Lots of players would be in panic mode because they need to be on the field so that college recruiters can evaluate their performance.

Holden, 17, didn't seem too concerned. He was working on a school paper on the bus ride to Venice.

"I can fall back on my academics," he said.

He's the only high school football player in Southern California who's had a science project transported to the International Space Station. He's twice made presentations at the Smithsonian Institution. He's appeared in the New York Times and the South Korea Times. His grade-point average is 4.1.

And yet, Holden used to believe football would be his ticket to a college education.

"I grew seven inches in one year," he recalled of his middle school days when he was shaving as a sixth-grader. "I was half a foot taller than everyone else. I scored every time I got the ball. I started thinking maybe I can make myself a life in football because I was bigger than everyone.

"Then I started getting to the point I realized kids are catching up. I can't depend just on my athletic skills. I need to do something to have something going for me to get to these [Ivy League] colleges."

As a freshman at Chaminade, as part of a class assignment, he was told to come up with an experiment "testing microgravity."

He designed an experiment to see if wine ferments faster in the weightless environment of space. In 2013, after his experiment was transported for a second time to the space station, he found out the answer is yes -- three times faster.

While continuing to play football, he discovered his science project generated far more attention than anything he's ever done in sports, and it changed his thinking.

"I realized academics is getting me all this attention," he said. "My new thing is academics. It's not football anymore. It's a weird transition. It's kind of hard. I've been playing football since I was 8 years old."

Holden will continue to play football as long as his shoulder holds out. He figures to be an important contributor for the Eagles (1-0) and is scheduled to make his season debut on Friday against visiting Newhall Hart.

Holden, 5 feet 11, 190 pounds, intends to seek an early admit to Dartmouth. If accepted, he'll study environmental science and hopes to become an entrepreneur and develop "green gadgets."

Who knows what would have happened if he hadn't stopped growing, but he was smart enough to realize there are other options to get to college besides relying solely on football.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: LATSondheimer

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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