Hard Lessons

My prep season began with a profile of a tremendously talented and dedicated football player, Michael Jones of Laguna Hills High. Unfortunately, Jones didn't show that dedication in the classroom until it was too late. He went on to have an incredible senior year, shattering county career rushing records, nearly breaking the Southern Section career rushing record and leading the Hawks to the Division VIII section title.

But the most prolific running back in Orange County history will be missing out--at least for now--on a golden opportunity to play football at a major university and get a free education.

Jones seems to have a lot of people rooting for him, myself included. But if he doesn't begin to value his education as much as his football career, he will become just another one of those superior athletes who will have only his high school records to look back on.

The saddest part about the Michael Jones story is that it kept repeating itself. Two of the most gifted soccer players I watched this year--Saddleback forward Tomas Serna and Santa Ana sweeper Mario Gonzalez--had the talent to play NCAA Division I college soccer, but neither was able to qualify academically.

Every time I saw Serna or Gonzalez at a game, I'd inquire about their academics. They would tell me they were studying for the SAT and that they planned to pass it soon. I got the feeling I was more interested in their college future than they were.

Serna and Gonzalez will apparently play at local community colleges next season. There's nothing wrong with playing community college soccer, but they could do better.

College soccer coaches tell me Serna and Gonzalez are good enough to play for almost any Division I program. They are also probably talented enough to one day play professional soccer in this country or abroad. Serna and Gonzalez could still do both, but their road will be longer now. It could have been much shorter and much sweeter had they bothered to devote as much time to their studies as they did to their soccer.

No matter how many of these stories we write, it seems the lessons are never learned. Here's hoping some incoming freshman will remember the stories of Jones, Serna and Gonzalez.

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