In the middle of football practice last August, coach Tim Kirksey of Westlake Village Westlake received a text from a student on the volleyball team asking if he could try out for punter.
“He was messing around with friends at a park,” Kirksey recalled. “His friends told him, ‘Hey, you should come out.’”
Michael Shahidi did what any teenager with a 4.85 grade-point average would do in trying to learn something new — he went to YouTube looking for help on how to punt.
He found a video of a punter named Ray Guy.
“I think he was on the Raiders,” Shahidi said.
Kirksey normally doesn’t allow players to join the team so late, but Shahidi kicked some spirals in an Aug. 23 tryout, so why not give him a shot? The next day, he joined the team.
That caused teammates to start asking questions.
“The first question was, ‘OK, where did you transfer from?’ And ‘Did you play soccer for Westlake?’” Shahidi said.
The answers were no and no. He was an AAU beach volleyball champion and starter for Westlake’s indoor team. And he had MacGyver-like qualities, taking calculus at Moorpark College and being open to try anything.
“It was basically, ‘Why not go for it?’ which is a mentality I’ve used through my life,” he said.
He didn’t appear in a game until Sept. 14 against Moorpark. He kicked a punt that went 50 yards. By season’s end, he made the all-Marmonte League team.
On Thursday, he was to be honored as Westlake’s representative at the annual awards banquet for scholar athletes held by the San Fernando Valley chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
“He’s one of those kids whatever he touches he’ll be successful in,” Kirksey said.
The same can be said for many of the seniors being honored this month at the scholar athlete award banquets across Southern California, including the Los Angeles chapter on Friday in Culver City.
They’ve figured out how to balance academics and athletics while showing off-the-chart leadership skills.
Shahidi seems to be one of those teenagers destined to do big things. He already earned a trip to Tahiti after winning the AAU 16U beach volleyball competition, and is headed to Sicily in October after being crowned AAU 18U beach volleyball champion. He has applied to 20 colleges and hopes to study business and become an entrepreneur.
After volleyball practice, he still goes to a park in Thousand Oaks to practice punting. He was there on Monday, ignoring a sign that said, “Field Closed.” There’s no roadblock big enough to stop him.
“It showed me anything is possible,’’ he said of his football experience. “I didn’t think I’d ever play football. The whole experience has been empowering.”
He’s thankful his parents let him play football even though they had concerns about concussions.
“I tried not to mention I might get hit, which they realized later,” he said.
He now knows that Ray Guy, the punter he found on YouTube, happens to be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.