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High School Sports

Column: These Yale-bound athletes accept both an athletic and academic challenge

These Yale-bound athletes accept both an athletic and academic challenge

San Marino wide receiver J.P. Shohfi runs after making a catch against Summit in the South Section playoffs.

(Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

Wednesday is letter-of-intent day for high school football players, which means you’ll have the opportunity to sit in front of a TV or stare at a computer screen from sunrise to sundown, keeping track of 17- and 18-year-olds announcing their college choice.

It’s one of the strangest experiences. You’ll listen to the commentator give a player’s supposed ranking based on ability (five stars, four stars, three stars ...), then become excited or disappointed depending on which school’s hat the player pulls from under a table or from a bag.

In Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Columbus, Ohio; and in lots of other college towns around the country, this is a big deal.

Meanwhile, let me offer a free commercial break about what signing a letter of intent really means. It’s getting the opportunity to attend college and embark on a journey toward adulthood.

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In Southern California, there are five players ESPNU won’t be showing on its all-day signing special. That’s because they’re going to Yale, an Ivy League school that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships. And yet, these are the players to truly celebrate, because they have great grades, great character and great commitment and are pretty good football players.

J.P. Shohfi of San Marino led the state this past season with 122 receptions and set a national receiving record for most yards in a season with 2,464.

He’s so busy playing soccer, going to rehearsals for the school musical “Little Shop of Horrors” and studying (he has a 4.3 grade-point average) that taking a moment to sign with Yale will require good planning. He’s a three-sport standout who has no regrets that he’ll end up at Yale instead of UCLA or USC.

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“It’s a crazy process,” Shohfi said. “Recruitment can be frustrating and very exciting. I had to consider a lot, not just my future in football but my future as a man in life. Football ends at some point. Understanding that helped me.”

Ryan Burke, a linebacker from Bellflower St. John Bosco with a 4.2 GPA, wrote in his essay for Yale, “Football has taught me to never quit on anything in my life. When things get hard, football has taught me to keep pushing because it will all work out in the end.”

Malcolm Dixon, a defensive back from Fullerton Sunny Hills; Garrett White, a receiver from Huntington Beach Edison; and Alex Young, a running back from Irvine Woodbridge, will join Shohfi and Burke in signing with Yale. No one knows how well they’ll end up performing as college football players, but the chances are good they’ll be pretty good in the classroom, which is what college is supposed to be about.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Young said. “It means so much because it’s a world-class university that will provide a steppingstone to help me with my future.”

Said Dixon: “It means everything to me. It’s a huge opportunity, a true blessing from God. When I committed, it was surreal.”

Shohfi said he’s happy for the players who will make their announcements on TV.

“It’s a real cool moment for anyone,” he said. “We understand how hard athletes work at their craft.”

Most intriguing about the Yale-bound group is how these students plan to adjust to snow, temperatures in the teens and even rain after growing up in Southern California.

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“I’m a short pants guy,” Burke said. “I only have so many pairs of long pants.”

Said Young: “I’m a Southern California kid, so I like my sun and 75 degrees. But I can tough it out.”

Said White: “I’m sure I’ll be bringing my Rainbow flip-flops.”

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATSondheimer


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