When Oluwole Betiku, a native of Nigeria, was first learning the rules and concepts of football last season at Gardena Serra, there were many teachable moments.
There was the time he had to learn how to use a helmet.
"It was probably the most uncomfortable feeling because my head was tight," he said. "My head was burning. I took it off every chance I could. I didn't know what I was doing. The straps were always coming off."
Then there was the time he decided to grab the facemask of an offensive lineman.
"The guy brought his head straight into me," said Betiku, a defensive end. "I grabbed his helmet and ripped it off his head. I didn't know it was illegal. If they're allowed to hit me with their head, why can't I pull the helmet off?"
Yes, it has been a learning experience for Betiku, but things appear to be going quite well.
"A year ago, he didn't know how to put on his helmet," Coach Scott Altenberg said. "A year later, he's got 27 college offers. He's really talented."
And big: 6 feet 4 and 250 pounds.
This month, Betiku announced he had committed to UCLA.
Betiku loves school and football. He was brought to the United States by former NFL standout LaVar Arrington, who became his legal guardian after discovering Betiku on a visit to Nigeria. Betiku lived in Maryland for a year, until Arrington made a job change with the NFL Network based in the Southland.
Last season as a junior, Betiku was credited with 11 1/2 sacks in his first football season.
Betiku is so imposing that a visitor on campus watching a seven-on-seven passing competition asked, "Are you really a high school student?"
Jovial, friendly and always eager to listen and learn, Betiku has made his coaches excited in that they are training him from scratch.
"He was a blank slate," Altenberg said. "He had no bad habits. It's awesome. It's fresh. It's almost like Pop Warner."
Betiku said when he was first made a defensive end, he didn't like it.
"When the ball is coming your way, you have these big boys trying to push you away," he said. "I tried to stand up and look for the ball. I had to learn how to stand my ground even if I have to take a fall."
Betiku is so motivated to succeed that his positive attitude rubs off on others.
"I never quit," he said. "As long as I can breathe, I'll still keep fighting, I'll still keep working."
He speaks of football teaching him about America.
"The opportunities it brings," he said. "What you learn in football you can apply to your real life — not giving up, working as a team, knowing your assignments, doing your job."
He's still getting used to food changes, such as the fruits not being as sweet as in Nigeria. But he loves chicken of any kind.
"In Nigeria, we had small pieces," he said. "In America, you can have as much as you want. I'm ready to eat it any time. Just call me up."