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HAMMOCK: Gwinnett should be proud of senior athletes

By all accounts, Norcross senior Max Garcia is ready for success on the football field.

The Maryland-bound offensive tackle is big, strong and athletic. Norcross assistant Dale Farr, pushing 30 years of high school coaching, called him the best offensive lineman he's ever coached, and said it wouldn't surprise him to see Garcia in the NFL.

Those skills are evident to anyone who saw the Blue Devils play the past three seasons. What people don't get to see is the side of Garcia that Farr bragged about Monday night at the inaugural Gwinnett County Public Schools Outstanding Senior Athlete Banquet -- the well-liked, fun-loving kid with the 3.2 GPA in all Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes. The one who hasn't missed a single day of school since kindergarten.

He shares that with another Gwinnett senior, Nick Orangio of Mill Creek, who also has perfect attendance.

They were part of an exceptional group of seniors honored at Monday's banquet, each showered with praise from a favorite coach or teacher. Some were more accomplished athletically than others -- multiple state champions Caroline Kenney of North Gwinnett and Nicky Akande of Collins Hill were among the student-athletes -- but all shared the commonality of being outstanding people and top-notch in the classroom.

Peachtree Ridge's Caitlin Siracusa headed up her school's ultra-successful Relay For Life team. Radu Roscot of Mountain View stood out in two sports and in the classroom, despite living in the U.S. less than three years. A few like North's Eric Madden and Shiloh's Eugene Glenn are bound for prestigious military academies. The Gwinnett Heat's Alex Reed fought back from a paralyzing car accident to gain admittance to the University of Georgia, no small feat these days.

The 35 students honored are Gwinnett's best, the kids we should be tremendously proud of. They give hope for our nation's future as shining examples of what a student-athlete should be. Not only did they learn the valuable lessons sports can teach, they did it while balancing high-level academics and community service.

They never took the easy way out and they still managed to avoid the pitfalls that can trip up some teenagers. They became role models to fellow students, though another forgotten side is how much they impacted their elders. A few coaches choked up as they talked about their top seniors, with multiple coaches making the point that they hope their own children turn out to be the same kind of person.

There were tears and hugs at the GCPS event, with coaches and athletes saying goodbye after four years of friendship. But those coaches could leave with a sense of satisfaction, knowing that their seniors are destined for great successes in the future in whatever endeavor they pursue.

Even if it's the NFL.

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.