Jeff Hick felt confident and excited about the future. He had just returned from the state capital with his parents where he was named 1998 California Scholar/Athlete of the Year for high school male seniors. He had been recognized at an awards banquet along with the top female winner and some 44 finalists. He had been presented to the state senate and assembly, where a resolution was passed in his honor. He had even been part of the half-time show during a Sacramento Kings NBA game.
It had been an exciting few days, and he was looking forward to telling his friends all about it."Before you do anything, make sure you cut the grass," his mother told her smiling son.
At least that's what Janie Hick called it.
That moment seems to be indicative of 18-year-old Jeff's life. "He's the epitome of being well-rounded," said Sister Hick of the Laguna Hills 3rd Ward, Laguna Niguel California Stake.
Her husband, Walt, agreed. "The award really hasn't changed Jeff. It can't help but give him self-confidence, but he's still Jeff."
The unassuming young man was chosen earlier this year out of some 600 applicants from throughout the state to be among 22 male finalists for a $5,000 scholarship sponsored by the California Interscholastic Federation and the Arco oil company. The federation, a state government controlling body, includes some 120 public and private schools and each year chooses a top high school male and female noted for all-around achievement in academics, athletics and community involvement. Jeff's athletic director at Laguna Hills High School nominated the young man for the award.
Jeff felt grateful and honored just to be a finalist. Then, in March, he was working at his father's accounting office when he received the phone call that he had won the top honor.
"We were jumping up and down, going crazy," Jeff related, speaking of his and his father's reaction that day.
The 6-foot-1-inch, offensive lineman/captain for the Laguna Hills football team helped lead his team to a 13-1 record last fall and a CIF Southern Section Division VIII championship. He's been named to All-League, All-CIF and All-Orange County teams for the past two years and is the first lineman to win the scholar/athlete award. He also participates in track and field.
But Jeff is not typical of your big, tough football player.
He doesn't dream of going pro. He wants to go to medical school and specialize in sports medicine. He holds a 4.58 weighted GPA and is student representative to the School Board of Education. He has also participated in two school musicals, plays the piano and taught himself to play the guitar. He writes some of his own music and has played in two bands.
He also attended early morning seminary, is an Eagle Scout, recently helped a 6-year-old boy learn to read and is preparing to serve a mission. This fall, he enters BYU on a four-year Heritage (academic) Scholarship and will be a walk-on for the football team.
Despite his successes, Jeff was surprised when he won top honors. "I think it was the Eagle Scout that put me over," he mused. Jeff was the only such finalist. For his Eagle project two years ago, he spent three or four Saturdays stenciling the words "No dumping, drains to ocean" on some 80 storm drains in his area.
The Scouting program, he explained, helped him learn the discipline to set and reach goals.
He also learned discipline at an early age in the Hick home. When their four children were young, Brother and Sister Hick encouraged good grades by giving little rewards. Jeff remembers getting computer games when making straight A's. "When I got in high school, they made me understand the importance of getting good grades, so they never bought me anything else," he added, laughing.
His older brothers, Ryan and Danny, also had a big influence on him. Ryan served a mission to Russia, and Danny returned this month from Japan. Both were also Eagle Scouts, and Ryan was the first Heritage Scholar of the family. Jeff also has a 14-year-old sister, Jana.
Jeff calls Ryan and Danny, "typical big brothers, always teasing me. My dad always said, `Be careful. He'll be bigger than you someday.' And he was right. They've been gone so I haven't got a chance to get even with them, but I will," he added, chuckling.
Despite being one of the biggest in his school classes, Jeff was never a bully, Sister Hick said. He was known for kindness - a needed trait for teaching a 6-year-old how to read. At the end of his junior year, Jeff had been tutoring fellow students when his high school counselor recommended him for tutoring an elementary school boy.
Twice a week, Jeff went to the boy's home and worked with him. But he did more than that. The boy's parents were divorced, so felt he could be a positive role model.
"I wouldn't just teach him reading. I taught him to work hard and play later," Jeff said. "He liked to play video games, but I'd make him read for half an hour and then he could play for five minutes."
The boy's family has since moved away, but Jeff still has a memento - a picture the boy drew for Jeff of the two of them together. "It showed I impacted his life a little bit."
As California Scholar/Athlete of the Year, Jeff will continue being a positive role model. A local television program, the "L.A. Times High School Sports Show," recently featured Jeff, and newspapers have featured him. "They've mentioned how I felt about my Church. Everyone knows I'm going to BYU," he said.
With all the attention, though, Jeff is still Jeff, according to his father. "When the three of us are in the car sometimes, we would think about the award and talk about it. Just a smile, and then it would pass."
Must be time to cut the grass.