How COVID-impacted students turned around football futures

This is the high school football season in which the seniors are known as the COVID teenagers. They arrived as freshmen in the fall of 2020 when there were no sports and classrooms were locked. They did their school work from a computer at home.

It’s going to take years of research to understand the impact of the pandemic, but clearly many students were lost.

One of those was Nick Andrade of Moorpark. He received eight failing grades as a freshman during the 2020-21 school year.

“It was COVID time,” he said.

To pick himself off the ground, Andrade found motivation in the lure of playing football. Better grades meant he’d join his friends.

“I just knew I had to get it done. I wanted to play,” he said.

As a sophomore, he received a waiver to play but didn’t fully correct his academics.

“Junior year I turned it around,” he said. “It was my effort. I was a different person.”

He enters his senior year as a 6-foot-3, 255-pound standout nose tackle with the grades to go to an NCAA Division II or NAIA school.

“I don’t know if there’s a guy I’m more proud of academically,” coach Ryan Huisenga said. “A lot of it was emotional growth and sitting him down and talking to him, ‘This is an avenue to create a better life for yourself. This thing shut all of us down. Some thrived, some didn’t. You didn’t and you have to battle back.’”

Andrade used football to overcome those lost months of learning.

“It made me try to get my act together,” he said. “It hurt seeing my teammates out there and me not being able to help. It was not a good spot sitting on the sideline doing nothing. I turned myself around. I need to do this for my team. It was a maturity thing. I definitely matured. It had a lot to do with me feeling disappointed in myself and not OK with what I’m doing.”

Another player who made a comeback in the classroom is standout running back Isaiah Rameau of Chatsworth. When he finished his final summer school classes last month, he became NCAA eligible in his core classes.

“I screamed from the top of my room,” he said. “I was jumping around my house.”

During that freshman year in 2020-21 while using Zoom and not playing football, his grade-point average was 1.7.

“My teachers were telling me, ‘You don’t have to try as hard. We’re going to redo the year,’” he said.

Football coach Marvin Street was blunt. “You need higher grades if you want to play college football.”

“He was kind of mad at me,” Rameau said. ‘“If you don’t get your grades up, you’ll never play football again.’ That kind of woke me up. I have to get into that drive.”

Last season as a junior, Rameau rushed for 2,434 yards. He started this season with 217 yards against North Hills Monroe last week. Now his GPA is up to 2.8.

“He showed me you need education,’’ Rameau said of his coach.

Said Street: “He doesn’t miss school, he doesn’t miss workouts. It’s very special when you get a kid who’s always there.”

Moorpark had 75 students sign up for football as freshmen in 2020. There are less than 30 still playing. But Andrade is one of them.

“The fact he dug himself out of a hole and turned it around, we are so proud of him,” Huisenga said.