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Sports Crazed: The work while no one's watching

Athletes do some of their best work behind the scenes

Posted: August 19, 2014 10:35 p.m.
Updated: August 19, 2014 10:35 p.m.

West Ranch gradaute Janelle Lindvall came out of high school determined to continue her success at Oregon. Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics

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Hart quarterback Brady White woke up in the mornings during his family’s recent vacation to Coronado Beach and walked down to the water with a football.

He’d line up facing the beach, ball in hand, and drop back into the waves to test his balance and footwork.

Before Jonathan Jerozal, now in his third year at Stetson University, entered Canyon High School, he would walk onto the field with his father and bribe the groundskeeper for practice time with a case of Dr. Pepper.

For Nick Nowakowki, a West Ranch graduate, the journey to a Division I college scholarship meant walking on at the University of Utah and hoping for the best.

At the opposite extreme is Janelle Lindvall, who also graduated from West Ranch but unlike Nowakowski, had a full-ride waiting to one of the top softball programs in the nation, the University of Oregon.

Their journeys seem vastly different and unique. There’s the top quarterback recruit in White. Then, there’s the hopeful quarterback in Jerozal, who went to Stetson knowing its football program would not play games until his second year. You also have Nowakowki, the fringe player who wasn’t ready to give up on his dreams, and Lindvall, the softball star who saw her sister Devon play for UCLA and was determined to do the same at Oregon.

But the reality is they all share a common bond — what White calls the “lonely work.”

“No one is watching you,” White says. “No one is there. No coaches to instruct you. You’re not throwing to anyone. That’s where the best of the best thrive.”

Fans see the finished product.

The tight spiral floating effortlessly down field.

The pulling lineman laying down a ferocious block.

The swing of the bat that sends the ball sailing over the outfield fence.

What fans don’t see, though, is the process.

The work that goes into molding the body and mind into an athletic machine.

“That’s the truth,” White says. “Obviously when you’ve got your coaches watching you want to do extra stuff after practice, that’s great and that’s going to help. But it’s the Saturday mornings at 7 o’clock when everyone else is sleeping and you’re in the weight room getting stronger.”

It takes a sort of obsession for one’s craft to reach the highest levels — and all across the Santa Clarita Valley, high school athletes are putting in that work just like White in a bid to get to the next level.

“For me, it helps loving the teammates I was playing with,” Lindvall says. “And that’s very, very important. We were all in it together. You have to be a little crazy to do it I guess. I enjoy softball a lot and I think what I love most about it is all the things that it’s given to me beyond the game: the relationships I’ve made; the work ethic I’ve put in; all the things I’ve learned, the knowledge I’ve learned from coaches.”

Athletes like Lindvall are waking up before the sun rises, traveling hours to participate in club sports and struggling to find time to balance athletics and academics.

But ask any star athlete the valley has to offer and you’ll hear one universal response: it’s all worth it.

“It was worth it, every minute I spent at Canyon was worth it,” Jerozal says. “I met some of my best friends I’ve met in my life. They demanded every ounce of hard work and effort day in and day out and that’s what makes you better.”

For Nowakowski, that work always required a little bit more than everyone around him.

“When you get a scholarship, the coaches know who you are,” he says. “When you walk on, you walk around, no one knows who you are. You have to work extra hard.”

That work, though, paid off this summer, as the lineman was awarded two weeks ago with an athletic scholarship at Utah.

“Nowakowski has done nothing but work hard and improve since the day he joined our program two years ago,” says Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “This hard work and dedication, both on the field and in the classroom, has earned Nick a full-ride scholarship here at the University of Utah. Our program has a long history of awarding scholarships to deserving walk-ons and our players were elated to hear that Nick is the next player to be added to that list.”

For Jerozal, it wasn’t a question of having everyone know his name when he arrived at Stetson.

It was a matter of just when the team would play football.

He accepted the challenge, knowing the program wouldn’t start playing until his sophomore season.

“I chose to come because I wanted to be a part of a tradition, part of something brand new,” he says. “That’s our motto. ‘Return the tradition.’”

So he sacrificed game time for practice time, which meant more lonely time and less spotlight.

It’s something all four are used to; it’s something all top athletes are used to.

Says White: “It’s all about the lonely work.”

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