Tynard Barfield, Kelley Bagdasarian, Sherrod Hawkes

Kelley Bagdasarian, center, a full-time academic advisor at Patterson, talks with football players Tynard Barfield, left, and Sherrod Hawkes, right, during a recent session at the school. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / September 25, 2013)

When Sherrod Hawkes transferred to Patterson from Overlea last fall, he didn't have much interest in studying. He just wanted to play football.

The powerful downhill ball carrier wanted to play in college, but after two years of high school, his grade point average was 0.77 on a 4.0 scale.

Hawkes, who had not realized his football career would soon end if he didn't hit the books, found out how much ground he had to make up when he met Patterson's academic coach, Kelley Bagdasarian. She pointed out that he needed a 2.5 grade point average and 800 on his SAT just to qualify to play NCAA sports.

So Hawkes buckled down, and after a year in Bagdasarian's Baltimore Scholar Athlete Program, he's halfway there.

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His GPA has reached 2.5, but he still has to boost his SAT score before the college coaches interested in his football talents — including those from Towson, Temple, James Madison and North Carolina Central — can even consider seriously recruiting him.

"Overlea never had nothing like this," Hawkes said. "They never had a teacher who would help you out and get you ready for college. I didn't know anything about this stuff until I came to Patterson."

Neither did many of his peers.

Hawkes is one of the 70 to 100 Clippers a year who go beyond Bagdasarian's mandatory study hall and immerse themselves in the Baltimore Scholar Athlete Program, which includes everything from tutoring to mentoring, SAT prep to life skills and financial literacy classes. She also takes them on tours of Maryland and Virginia colleges to learn about the admissions process and financial aid opportunities.

Tynard Barfield, a Patterson running back and cornerback, is another success story. The junior improved his GPA from 1.5 to 3.3 and now takes honors courses.

"If you want to play college sports, listen to Coach Kelley, because she's giving you the truth," Barfield said. "You need grades and you've got to be willing to work."

Bagdasarian knows how to connect with the kids. Also the girls' basketball coach and an assistant with the football team, she has a master's degree in athletic counseling and is willing to give as much time to students as they need. In her classroom, known as The Zone and featuring a sports motif, they have a quiet haven where they can study or get help with their homework.

Her track record is so good and the kids have so much fun in the BSAP that most newcomers are recruited by the club veterans.

"It really is the culture here now," Bagdasarian said. "My upperclassmen do most of the promoting for me. We don't have to worry about the perception of them caring about their grades. Around here, it's the cool thing to do."

While Patterson had an overall graduation rate of 76 percent between 1996 and 2012, according to Maryland Department of Education statistics, 100 percent of the students in Bagdasarian's program have received their diplomas.

Patterson football coach Larry Mitchell said the players just need someone to guide them toward college in the classroom the way he does on the field.

"They go around and they have this dream to go to college," Mitchell said, "and a lot of them get into the 11th and 12th grade with these big ol' dreams and don't realize they don't have a chance. They shot themselves in the foot in ninth and 10th grade. One of the things I eliminated was allowing guys to play with 60s. They get a 60-65 [percent], they still fail in my book."

In his second season at Patterson, Mitchell continues the legacy started in 2000 when former coach Roger Wrenn received a grant from the National Football Foundation's Play It Smart initiative. The grant paid for an academic coach for the football team — Bagdasarian — who started with mandatory study hall.

At first, it wasn't easy to get players to buy into anything more. One of her earliest converts and greatest success stories, Phillip Matthews, had little guidance at home, where both parents were mired in the drug culture. Education was not a priority.

"At first everybody was like, 'Nah, I don't want to get in this program,'" Matthews said. "But five or six of us started going every day and being active in it, and she showed us what life's supposed to be like, a normal life … with somebody who takes your education serious, somebody that can use sports as a platform to do better things with your life."

As a freshman and sophomore, Matthews played Pop Warner football. He didn't go to school enough to play for Patterson, skipping 120 days. When Pop Warner ended after tenth grade, he had to go to class to play for the Clippers, but he didn't like it.