Over the last couple years, I've seen Christian Morin play a little football and basketball.

He was a good enough player at Pioneer Valley. He wasn't a star, but he certainly held his own. He did have those traits coaches always seem to look for: He was a leader and he carried himself like one. 

Over the last couple weeks, though, I've learned a lot about Christian Morin. Not the athlete, but the person. And it's changed the way I see him. In fact, I've learned a lot about so many of our area athletes and it's continued to open my eyes.

The athletes we watch at games, or practices, carry with them so much more than we see out on that field. More than we could imagine.

Christian, for instance, earned a 3.96 GPA throughout high school while playing the three major sports all four years. Now, as a graduating senior, he plans on attending Fresno State or Long Beach State to study kinesiology. 

But Christian had to work much harder to build up that GPA and play all those sports than most kids have had to. 

When he was an eighth grader, Christian's mother passed away, forcing his father Abel to raise he and his two brothers alone.

As a child in Manila, Callado wrote that he "wasn't exposed to high speed internet, cellphones, video games or any social media platforms. All I had was the company of my friends." The activity with his friends included running.

He immediately took to running when he came to Fairlawn Elementary in Santa Maria. "I was on the fourth, fifth and sixth grade track teams at Fairlawn," Callado said.

"In life, I had been dealt a bad hand because I have had to grow into a man without the guidance of a mother..." Christian wrote in his scholarship essay for the Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Round Table. "My father, my two brothers and I were forced to live in a garage as a means of living. This was a struggle, which only fired up my drive for success in all that I do."

Things eventually got better for Morin and his family. 

"My single parent, my father, is such a great dad it motivated me to be the best son from my limited perspective that I could be," Christian wrote. 

Christian also wrote about the work that went into that 3.96 GPA while playing sports year-round.

"There have been nights where I am awake, studying and doing school work until 4 a.m., knowing that I had to be up two hours later, ready to start my day with a morning practice."

As fans or sports writers, we judge every touchdown or every blown assignment in that moment. Every spectacular play and every screw up is judged instantaneously and all perspective gets lost.

We don't always see the struggle, the grind that brought that player to that point in time. 

We have been able to tell Christian's story through our Senior Spotlight series. Through this project we'll publish more than 40 stories on high school seniors (and Hancock College sophomores).

Reading the stories compiled by the legendary Kenny Cress has helped shine a light on what many of these kids go through and what they want out of life away from the field.

We greatly appreciate the Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Round Table for hosting weekly luncheons and its yearly Athlete of the Year banquet to honor these high school seniors, who are especially hurting right now facing an uncertain future. The Round Table's Yvonne Biely has also been incredibly helpful in allowing us to tell these stories.

With that said, I'd like to pick out some highlights from our Senior Spotlight series. I hope you'll take the time to read them in depth and check out the ones we'll be publishing in the coming weeks: 

  • Oscar Rojas is going from Lompoc High to Yale, where he'll study political science or philosophy and play baseball. (He has a 4.50 GPA and an eye-popping SAT score). 
  • Orcutt Academy's William Jin, a standout tennis player, will go to UC San Diego with a 4.70 GPA and an academic scholarship. William was inspired to play sports after his parents, who both grew up in China, didn't have that chance. "For them, attending a secondary school that offered no recreational sports teams was a sad common reality."
  • Santa Maria runner Jedric Callado came to Santa Maria from Manila, using track and cross country as a way to assimilate in the States.
  • Cabrillo's Jeremy Hicks played four years of varsity basketball, but struggled to be a part of the team as a freshman. "I was made fun of because of my faith and values, and I did not know how to react." Hicks eventually grew and adapted, becoming an invaluable member of the CHS student community. 
  • Antoinette Terrones, also of Cabrillo, played soccer and softball and was a cheerleader even though she has no peripheral vision due to an impairment called Duane syndrome.

These are just a few details of a few of the stories we've been lucky enough to tell over the last few weeks. We have more inspiring stories to tell in the coming weeks and I hope that you'll read along with us.

Senior Spotlight Series: Celebrating the area's top senior student-athletes

Our 'Senior Spotlight' series is aimed at highlighting senior student-athletes who have had their final year of high school disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak. The athletes featured here were their school's nominee for Athlete of the Year or Student Athlete of the Year for the Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Round Table's end-of-year banquet that has been canceled due to the outbreak.