When you're down, disillusioned or questioning whether education can make a difference, think of Jordan Blackman, a 17-year-old senior at Panorama City St. Genevieve.
In May, he will graduate with a 4.83 grade-point average. He's the student body president, the football team's standout defensive back and is headed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
His life has not been easy. His mother raised him as a single parent, first in South Los Angeles, then Lakeview Terrace. He remembers living in a car, a motel and staying with other family members from the ages of 7 to 10 when financial issues affected his family.
Football became a way of releasing his emotions.
"I had a lot of anger growing up," he said. "I needed something constructive. Football was there for me when things weren't going right. I could express myself in a positive way. I really developed a strong passion for the game."
His inspiring story is one of many about the teenagers being honored this month around Southern California as part of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame scholar athlete program.
From Riverside to the San Fernando Valley, from Orange County to downtown Los Angeles, from Pasadena to San Diego, the local chapters have been saluting senior honor students who also excel in football. They are on their way to becoming future community leaders.
"I see him as a general," St. Genevieve Coach Billy Parra said of Blackman. "He's one of the first ones here in the morning and the last one leaving the library at night. He's just an outstanding kid."
Another player who will be honored on Thursday night at a banquet in Mission Hills is tight end Colby Parkinson of Westlake Village Oaks Christian. He'd be my pick as the Southern California player most likely to one day compete in the NFL. He's 6-foot-7, 230 pounds and headed to Stanford.
He has a 4.3 grade-point average and understands that academics is very much a crucial component to his success on and off the field. Football has helped prepare him for the ups and downs and challenges ahead.
"You can learn so many different lessons to so many different aspects of life," Parkinson said. "You're working toward goals. It shows you grit and integrity. I have the foundation in my life."
Nearly half a dozen honorees from the San Fernando Valley chapter are Eagle Scouts. Devin Lewis, a defensive back from Santa Clarita Golden Valley has a 4.33 GPA and wants to become a doctor.
"He's a great kid," Golden Valley Coach Dan Kelley said. "I don't know what kind of doctor he'll be. I hope he becomes a foot doctor to help me out in my old age."
Blackman isn't using his senior year to slack off. He's taking Advanced Placement classes in environmental science, English literature, world history, calculus and government. It's no wonder he's the last person leaving the school library at 5 p.m.
"West Point isn't easy, so I had to challenge myself," he said.
There is no better event to renew your confidence in the future and get a sense for what leadership looks like than to see the high school senior honorees from the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.