Antonio Perez is a senior defensive lineman at Sheldon High School in Sacramento. He's happy to have an opportunity to get an education and play football at the University of Idaho next year… But he also understands that when it comes to football, he's a commodity.
PEREZ: "Schools need money, so they go out and find football players that help out their program and get those ticket sales up, I guess. I guess they see it as an investment."
His coach at Sheldon is Josh Crabtree. He says Perez also received attention because of a 3.5 grade point average. Crabtree went to Macalester University…which is a small, academically-minded school in Minnesota. He went on a football scholarship.
Crabtree says he understands people who criticize schools for giving scholarships to athletes, but he recalls the success of a teammate who was given a chance to attend college even though he had struggled in the classroom in high school.
CRABTREE: "He was the type of kid that a lot of our classmates looked at and wondered, "Why is Raoul here?" And he came in and he was a little bit underwater academically, kind of getting used to the expectations. By the time he left his senior year, he was the Arthur Ashe Division III Scholar Athlete of the Year. He's currently a thoracic surgeon in Minneapolis."
There are at least 50 players from the Sacramento region who will play football on college scholarships next year. Some have committed to big-name schools like UCLA and Stanford. Several will play for smaller schools like Sac State and Cal Poly. Crabtree says he makes it a point to remind his players that they are student athletes first… and athletic students …second.