NORCROSS -- When Michael Matthews started high school, he had his sights set on a baseball scholarship.
But just before he started his junior year at Norcross High School, Matthews got involved with a different sport that helped him earn an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point: rifle shooting. Out of the 8,500 Gwinnett County Public Schools students graduating this week, Matthews is one of 22 who received a service academy appointment.
"I've always wanted to go into the military," Matthews said. "My two grandparents were in the military. I saw their uniforms ... and they told me about some of their experiences. That planted the seed ... and it flared up from there."
Matthews started researching the military, and when some friends told him about West Point, he decided that's where he wanted to attend college.
At the end of June, Matthews will fly to New York for boot camp before classes start.
"I'm trying to get ready for that," he said. "I'll keep training for rifle and working out and get ready for six weeks of boot camp."
His dedication to training is just one example of how hard he's working to achieve his goal. After four months of shooting competitively, Matthews qualified last year for the Junior Olympics.
"I had a lot to make up," Matthews said. "A lot of kids that compete are exposed through high school teams. ... I knew I had to work hard."
So every other night, Matthews practices shooting with an air rifle in his basement. He also goes to the River Bend Gun Club in Dawsonville.
At West Point, Matthews said he'll continue to practice riflery, just as other athletes practice their sports. In addition to the mandated physical fitness time, Matthews said he'll have two hours of mandated rifle practice with a coach.
Matthews' hard work, however, hasn't been limited to his sport. Through a dual enrollment program with Georgia Perimeter College, Matthews studied Arabic, completing levels 1 and 2 during his senior year.
"My goal is to (go into the) FBI once I get out of the U.S. Army," he said.
"I'm excited that I'm graduating. I'm glad ... (but) I'm going to miss a lot of my good friends. I'm going to keep in touch with them."