While many kids his age are trying to figure out which video game to put into the Xbox, Matthew Hutnyan is thinking on a much bigger scale.
Hutnyan lives in Irvine and is a 12-year-old seventh grader at Red Hill Lutheran in Tustin. But he is anything but your average middle schooler. He stands out among his peers, literally, at 5 feet 8, 170 pounds, and also boasts a 4.0 grade-point average.
An academic scholarship is a goal of Hutnyan's after his four years of high school at Orange Lutheran. But he's also on a course that could lead to an athletic scholarship.
Hutnyan, an offensive lineman, recently finished up his season with the Irvine Chargers in Junior All-American Football, then went on to participate on the Offense-Defense football camp at Chapman University, from which he was selected to participate in last month's Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, a weeklong event in Texas.
Those selected from camps across the country got to practice together for a week, then play a game in Cowboy Stadium against a team from another region.
"It was a huge honor for me, especially since I wanted to do it last year but I wasn't picked," said Hutnyan, who also played defensive end. "This year, I was very, very happy, very excited to be able to play in an NFL stadium. It was also kind of nerve wracking, but overall it was a great experience."
Hutnyan also said it was "cool" to meet some of the top young football players from across the country in the hopes that some day they'll meet again on a much bigger stage. For now, Hutnyan is remaining focused on his academics and athletics in middle school, and in a couple of years when he starts high school. But he can't help but think beyond that.
"I haven't thought that much ahead, but I started thinking about it more this year," he said. "I've always like Ohio State, and I also like Stanford, mostly because of the academics. And they also have an OK football team. This year they were good.
"I'd like to get a football scholarship or an academic scholarship, and I'd definitely like to play football at a higher level."
Hutnyan was one of the top players at the All-American Bowl, getting the rare chance to play against kids his own age. In Junior All-American Football, he's had to play with older kids because of his size. And it's his size that makes him a natural for the offensive line, something he's come to enjoy.
"In the beginning I was on the offensive line because of my size, but I've grown to actually like it," he said. "I didn't ever want to be a quarterback or wide receiver or anything. I like the offensive line because you get to be there in all the action, you get to hit no matter what, and there's a lot of thinking involved, like knowing your blocks and knowing the play."
Hutnyan knows that to play offensive line at a major college or in the NFL, he needs more than desire and knowledge. College and NFL offensive linemen typically stand well more than 6 feet and 300 pounds.
At his current size, Hutnyan might well be on his way, even though his dad Robert is 5-10 and his mom Cheri is 5-8.
"On my mom's side they're all tall and pretty big," Hutnyan said. "My mom's dad is pretty tall and pretty big. I'm hoping to get there so I can play in the NFL. It's not just skill because my dad played way back, but he just wasn't big enough.
"I'm hoping I'll get lucky on the size, but I'm definitely working on the skill."
Working on the skill includes getting personal instruction from former Ram and NFL Hall of Famer Jackie Slater. When Hutnyan's dad Robert was able to work out the details, Robert said it was "like winning the lottery," considering Slater primarily works with older and higher level linemen.
Hutnyan also is working out at the training center Athletic Republic, but is still too young to lift weights seriously.
"I just recently started doing the weights program, but it's just light weights, mixed in with all the other stuff," he said.
Hutnyan plays basketball for his middle school and also trains in mixed martial arts, which Hutnyan said benefits his play in football.
"It definitely helps me with the defensive line," he said. "The Jiu Jitsu is kind of like wrestling, and it helps a lot with tackling, staying low and being able to move quickly," he said.
But football remains the focus, a sport he's played since he was 6.
"I like the fellowship and getting to meet other people," he said. "And I like the hitting and just the all-around sport because it's mental and physical."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun