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For Some, Leadership Transcends Football Field

For those who wonder what all the fuss is about playing high school football, meet Max Hodge, an offensive lineman from Oak Park.

“He came in as a kid, and he’s leaving as a man,” Coach Dick Billingsley said.

As a freshman, Hodge weighed 165 pounds. Now he’s a 240-pound senior.

“He was one of the quietest kids on campus,” Billingsley said. “He’s turned into a very dynamic person. He’s probably been the best leader we’ve had in 14 years. He’s really blossomed, grown and matured.”

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On Thursday, Hodge will be among 54 football players honored for academic and athletic excellence by the San Fernando Valley chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. Dozens of players from Orange County, the San Gabriel Valley and the Inland Empire will receive recognition in the next two weeks at banquets throughout the Southland.

Each recipient has a minimum 3.0 grade-point average and has demonstrated outstanding campus leadership.

Hodge more than fits the bill of a future mover and shaker. He and some friends have spent months preparing to shoot a student film about World War II and Iwo Jima. He co-wrote the script after conducting extensive research.

“We’re all interested in becoming writers or actors and all like World War II movies,” he said. “It was probably the deadliest invasion America has been in. For a while, it was the most densely populated island in the world.”

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Hodge and his friends have been gathering resources, identifying locations, developing special effects and coming up with props. This month, they’ll begin a four-month shooting schedule.

Hodge, who plans to attend Claremont-Mudd, seems destined to become a writer.

“I take as many English classes as I can,” he said. “I love to write. I like to write stories. I like to write poetry. Even essays are fun, if it’s the right topic.”

Hodge, who also plays the tuba, would need no encouragement to write about what football has meant to him.

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“It’s given me a lot more order, a lot more discipline, a set of values I truly appreciate,” he said. “My experiences with football at Oak Park I’d trade for nothing in the world. They’re too valuable to making me the person I am.”

Every scholar-athlete has a story to tell.

Wesley Paulsen, an offensive tackle from Orange who’s a straight-A student, plans to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point because he wants to make a difference.

“That’s part of the reason I want to go to West Point,” he said. “I think there’s a bigger impact you can make. Serving my country, I always thought, would be the biggest honor.”

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Jake Wheeler, a receiver from Laguna Beach with a 3.98 GPA, is the student-body president and has gone to Africa with his church to repair homes.

“You build stronger friendships,” he said. “In Africa, you really see how people can live without the luxuries we have in Orange County or the United States. There, it’s about family and food and survival.”

Patryck Stanwood of Canoga Park will be honored for having the most improved grade-point average in the Valley chapter. He had a 1.16 GPA, including two failing grades, the first semester of his sophomore year. Last semester, his senior year, his GPA was 3.0.

Coach Rudy Lugo believes football has helped motivate Stanwood to improve his grades.

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“It gave him an immediate reward for his effort in the classroom,” he said.

From Anaheim to Granada Hills, from Pasadena to Corona, these banquets deserve special praise and attention for recognizing the best and the brightest in high school football.

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Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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Scholar Banquets

The dates that scholar-athletes will be honored by local chapters of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame:

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Orange County...Monday at Anaheim Convention Center

San Fernando Valley...Thursday at Odyssey Restaurant in Granada Hills

Inland Empire...March 7 at the University of Redlands

San Gabriel Valley...March 8 at Brookside Golf Course

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Los Angeles...March 12 at Airport Doubletree

Riverside...March 21 at Corona Eagle Glen Country Club


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