Sometimes dreams are never realized simply because they are never believed to be possible. For Alipa Peters, a defensive end on the Estancia High football team, possible should never again be in question after he spent the weekend in Canton, Ohio with Pro Football Hall of Famers, his coach, and the Legacy Leadership Project.
Estancia football coach Mike Bargas became aware of a mentorship program looking for young men with leadership potential who needed a little push, a little education in believing that dreams can be realized. The Legacy Leadership Project teams up with the Newport Sports Museum and the Pro Football Hall of Fame and pairs high school football players with Hall of Famers to help the young men expand their boundaries and expectations in life.
When the program graced Bargas' desk, he immediately thought of his soft-spoken, talented big man, Peters. At 6'2" and pushing 270 pounds, Peters' large frame belies the senior's understated demeanor and difficult circumstances. Bargas recognized his player's potential and new there was fertile ground to sow some seeds of potential.
The process began in late April with a nomination letter from Bargas and essay from Peters, and as Peters made cut after cut from the numerous other nominations, Bargas kept downplayed the big kid's chances.
"I told him we have about a two in 60 chance to win this," Bargas said after he was told Peters made the short list.
On July 5, the coach and player were treated to Hall of Famer, Ron Yary stopping by the school to announce Peters' acceptance into the program. That would be the first of a series of interaction for the young man and great men.
As part of the program, Peters, Bargas and three other young men are granted access to the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies even beyond that of the national press. Through the weekend, the young men share dinners, lunches and stories with the greatest players to play America's favorite game.
One of the days in Canton, as Peters was seated next to an empty chair between another participant in the program, enjoying lunch, a yellow jacket stuffed with broad shoulders walked up to the chair, "Is this seat taken?" the gray-haired man asked. And like any good football fan, Peters did not deny Hall of Fame coach John Madden a seat at the table.
The Coach, who is also known for his popular video game, told stories of football past while attending to the answers of the young men. And because of the reverence Madden receives from the hallowed Hall of Famers, many of the game's greatest players and characters stopped by the table, met Peters, Bargas and the rest of the participants in the Legacy Leadership Project.
When asked what his favorite moment of the trip was, Peters didn't hesitate, "Meeting John Madden."
The two talked a little football, but mostly life, which for coach Bargas, scored the winning touchdown for the monumental trip. His goal in nominating Peters was to see the young man gain confidence, to find his own voice as a leader, and being surrounded by greatness did just that.
"It's been a dream come true for all of us," Bargas said. "This is a life changing trip."
And Hall of Fame cornerback, Mike Haynes, who was sitting next to Bargas Friday night at the enshrinees' dinner echoed that sentiment, "I don't know how it wouldn't be life changing."
As the young men were leaving the enshrines dinner, walking out the door with the likes of Jim Taylor, Joe Greene, Howie Long, Rayfield Wright, Jim Kelly, and of course, Madden, they happened to come across an inspired Michael Irvin who, gathered the young men around him and did what the greats do: taught.
"What you do today writes your life's book. So write it well…"
Irvin, the former Dallas Cowboys star wide receiver, continued to speak candidly to the young men about what defined legacy, struggles and perseverance, triumph and seeking truth. When he finished, Alipa stood with eyes wide and face white. It was a message most grown men would barely grasp, but for this high school football player, who lost two brothers and his father to death at an early age, he absorbed the message intently.
"Thank you," Dr. Casey Cooper, Legacy Project Organizer said to Irvin. "It means so much more coming from you."
Over the weekend, Coach Bargas watched his player develop confidence, not in physical prowess, but in personal commitment to achieve his own potential.
Peters said he was writing down this experience so his memory would not fail him in reliving the weekend. When asked how he would describe it to his classmates and teammates waiting for him at Estancia, he paused for some time, looked up, "I don't know yet," Peters said, "I'm still absorbing it all."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun