Nestled in the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest is Big Bear, hometown of Kriss Proctor, a 17-year-old senior quarterback whose life tales are filled with enthralling moments.
He wakes each morning and inhales fresh, crisp, invigorating air. At night, he gazes at the Milky Way.
"It's really unbelievable," he says.
On most weekends, he goes wake-boarding at Big Bear Lake. Come the cooler weather, he'll head to the slopes for some snowboarding.
If he wants a snack, he'll sometimes go fishing for rainbow trout.
"You cut it, chop off the head, put them right on the barbecue, peel off the skin and eat it once you get it off the bone," he says.
He's an honor student at Big Bear High. No matter the season, he's a standout athlete.
Proctor, an All-Southern Section quarterback who also plays safety and kicks, also averaged 11.6 points a game as an all-league forward in basketball and batted .487 as an all-league center fielder. He plays golf once a week and was a soccer player for seven years.
Four times a year, he visits the local elementary school to speak to second graders as part of a program called Peace Builders. Yes, he gets to join in rousing games of "Duck, Duck, Goose" and "Freeze Tag," but the 6- and 7-year-olds mostly just want to climb on his back. At 6 feet 2 and 180 pounds, he gladly obliges.
But more important, he serves as a role model and gets their attention when he passes on a simple message.
"We tell them to praise people and don't put people down," he says.
Stanford is recruiting him to play defensive back. Princeton wants him to play quarterback.
But the local fire department, sheriff's department or even the Marines might want to recruit him too, because there aren't many teenagers better at handling pressure.
Proctor thrives in tough situations. He made a 37-yard field goal last season as time expired to beat Twentynine Palms.
In a semifinal playoff game against San Bernardino Aquinas, with his team trailing by 10 points and three minutes left, Proctor threw a touchdown pass, kicked the onside kick, then stripped the ball away from an Aquinas player. He drove Big Bear down field, scoring the winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak with 30 seconds to spare.
And he hardly lost his breath, though his parents and others were left emotionally drained.
"I was a wreck, wreck, wreck," his mother, Sandy, says. "He's always been like that, even as a little kid. He's an easygoing guy. After the game, he comes up, gives me a big hug, 'Well, how did I do, Mom?' "
Proctor's bedroom is filled with athletic gear and shoes for all occasions, from bats and balls to snowboards, wake-boards, fishing rods and golf clubs. He also has a drum set and guitar.
"He loves his music," his mother says. "His uncle taught him to play drum and guitar. He doesn't know how to read music, but he can play. I don't know if the neighbors like it."
Proctor is a night owl who can keep going for hours. On Saturday mornings when Big Bear has afternoon home games, close to a dozen players come to the Proctor house, and his mother and father, Kenny, who played baseball at Cal Poly Pomona, cook breakfast. They rise at dawn to cook 45 eggs, 130 pancakes, four pounds of bacon and three pounds of sausage.
Proctor is a hometown celebrity. His grandfather was the high school principal. His grandmother was a teacher. His mother was a cheerleader. His father was a youth coach. His older brother was also Big Bear's starting quarterback.
"Oh, we've never heard of No. 3," cheerleader Jennifer Field jokes. "There's little kids in elementary school who write, 'Kriss is my hero.' "
Last season, Proctor led the football team to a 14-0 record, passing for 1,601 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushing for 1,461 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"Everybody knows Kriss," football Coach Dave Griffiths says. "Everybody knows his family. He's a very special kid. He's a hero to my 8-year-old, and I couldn't pick anybody better. He's a wonderful, heart-warming, genuine kid."
Big Bear was 2-0 when it arrived last Friday at Moorpark College, where the Bears defeated Simi Valley Grace Brethren, 62-40. On Proctor's first offensive play, he ran 47 yards for a touchdown. On his next offensive series, he ran 22 yards for a touchdown. Later, he returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown and passed 37 and 28 yards for touchdowns.
His 40-yard speed of 4.5 seconds leaves him untouchable at times. It makes sense that Gary Griffiths, the father of the Big Bear coach who used to coach at Pasadena High, compares Proctor to Chris McAlister, a former Pasadena cornerback and NFL standout.
"He's special," the elder Griffiths says.
No classes were held at Big Bear High on Monday as local residents dealt with the continuing threat from brush fires. Though the blaze has been burning away from where Proctor lives, he and his teammates had it hanging over them as they prepared for their big home game against Perris Citrus Hill (3-0) on Saturday.
As for the future, Proctor doesn't know how far he wants to stray from Big Bear or what level of football he wants to play in college.
He knows some wonder whether he would be as successful if he played at a bigger high school, but he wouldn't trade his experiences of growing up in Big Bear, a community of 6,100 that cherishes its outdoor lifestyle, for anything.
Businesses support the Big Bear sports teams as if they were in a small Texas town, with signs that read, "Go Bears."
Almost every day last summer, Proctor spent time on Big Bear Lake, fishing, sailing, wake-boarding or just hanging out with friends.
"It's heaven on Earth," his coach says.
"It's a great place to raise your kids," his mother says.
In another month or two, the weather will change, and Big Bear will switch to become a ski resort, adding to Proctor's fun.
What a life for a teenager who has so much more in store.
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.