Discovering A New Path


Photo by Sydney Stam

Tevita Noa portrait

Ardyn Ford, Senior Editor

A group of several teenage boys walk casually into Home Depot. They head to the section with the drills and split up to make sure that no one is nearby. When all is clear, they hide the drill in one of their bags and head towards the entrance of the store, hearts racing. A sense of relief and excitement washes over them when the hit the parking lot.

They got away with it.

Suddenly, one of them stops.

“Guys, we forgot the battery,” he said.

All of them groan, but turn around to finish what they started. A little more careless after successfully taking the drill, they fail to notice a woman watching them from down the aisle. As they make their way out of the store, she follows and reaches for their backpack.

So they do the only thing that they can think of: run. After a few minutes, they stop in an underground parking lot, knowing that the police are on their way. Soon, they hear sirens. Panic fills their bodies. There is nowhere to go. The police pull into the parking lot and jump out of the car, guns in the air.

“Get on the ground!” They yell.

The boys struggle a bit at first, but the police beat them into handcuffs. It was all over.

After several months of shoplifting and then selling everything from shoes to alcohol, the last thing that Highland senior Tevita Noa thought he would get in trouble for was a battery. The shoplifting had begun because his family was struggling financially and it was a way for him to get what he needed and make some good money. It gave him a sense of control in a hopeless situation.

Now, that control was lost, and the only thing on his mind as he sat there handcuffed was how disappointed in him football coach Brody Benson would be.

“When they called the school, all I was scared about was that Coach B would find out,” Noa said. “I just kept hoping that no one would tell him, but when I saw the look on his face at school, I could tell that he knew what had happened.”

Sure enough, Benson was made aware of the situation and promptly called Noa in for a talk. This wasn’t the first time that Noa had gotten into trouble, but Benson was still surprised because he had seen so much improvement in Noa’s school performance and behavior in the past year. Furthermore, Noa’s aggression and courage on the field were integral parts of the team dynamic, so losing him as a player would be a major setback.

“I felt betrayed,” Benson said. “To have someone who has so much talent jeopardize everything that we were working for to go out and do these stupid things. It was the final straw.”

And so, much to the devastation of himself and his family, Noa was removed from the team. This was made worse by the fact that, as a starting offensive tackle and defensive backhand, Noa has a lot of talent, and football was his key to a higher education — an opportunity that neither of his parents had.

“It felt like the end of the world,” Noa said. “I felt lost. I shut myself out.”

As his junior year came to a close, Noa isolated himself from the team and tried to move on. He felt embarrassed to see his teammates and guilty for putting his parents in a painful situation, so he decided to put his focus into his school work and personal growth. He knew that something inside of him would have to change if he wanted opportunity in life.

Benson also moved on, under the impression that Noa was going to continue making mistakes and therefore, impact the team as a whole.

However, one person never gave up. Noa’s father (forgot to ask him to write down his name….), self-proclaimed “Highland’s #1 fan,” stayed in contact with Benson throughout these months and did everything that he could to help Noa get back on the team.

“I was so mad at myself. It was my fault, for not keeping him on the right track,” Noa’s father said. “So, I tried my best to work it out….it took a lot of work, going to the coaches and trying to get them to take him back.”

Together, Benson and Noa’s dad worked to help Noa maintain grade eligibility and graduation requirements by enrolling him in summer classes. Before the football 3-a-day camps started, Benson decided that Noa had met all of his expectations. So he called Noa in and let him know that he was back on the team, with a 2-game suspension. He had another chance.

“It was the best feeling in the world, it felt better than getting all those big plays in the football games,” Noa said. “It helped me realize how much football meant to me. I realized that I would have to make a lot of changes to be back with my brothers.”

As senior year began, Noa worked hard in school, on the field, and at home, maintaining a GPA higher than a 3.0 and staying out of trouble. He accepted his punishments with grace, and used them as motivation to improve for the day when he was finally allowed to play. When that day came, the difference in the team’s morale was unparalleled. After Highland took a difficult loss from Olympus, Noa brought a new fire to the field during the following game, acting as a leader and example for all of his teammates.

One day, Benson pulled Noa aside and asked him to talk about his experiences to the Highland 8th grade team. Instead of blowing it off, he was very honest with them about his actions and the consequences that came with them. He did not want them to make the same mistakes that he did.

“I could sense a lot of maturity in him. It was a complete 180,” Benson said. “He is a good kid, he has a good heart.”

Noa credits this transformation to the Highland football program and the huge role that it has played in his life by providing him with a strong support system and an emotional outlet.

“Football is the only thing that keeps me on track,” Noa said. “The coaches are so dedicated to us not only as players, but as students and as people. They wake up at 4:30 just to make us run for study hall — usually no one is ever ineligible. As for the game, you get to be that jerk on the field, you can be a bully and no one cares.”

Noa’s dad has especially strong feelings about the character-building that goes on in the Highland football program and, even though they are in the East boundaries, made sure that his son was enrolled in Highland instead of East because of Highland’s respected reputation.

“As a parent, I’m so happy with myself for putting him at Highland because I know he’ll be a good leader for my family and for his family in the future,” Noa’s dad said. “I’m quite happy with the Highland coaches for all of that.”

The experience that Noa and his father have had with Highland football align perfectly with Benson’s aims for the program and reflect the influence that it has had on the lives of many young men. When Benson was in high school, he was lucky enough to have a coach who truly cared about his players. Benson saw the positive effect that this had on his teammates, especially those who came from rougher backgrounds, and has emulated his coach by building an inclusive program that promotes hard-work, collaboration, and family values.

“Wins and losses are icing on the cake,” Benson said. “[Highland football] is more about creating that family for kids who need it. There are a lot of kids who don’t have that environment, so if they have a constant, high standard, I think that it helps them later on in life. It’s never easy, there is always hard work and high expectations — they will get exactly what they want out of the program. They need that opportunity to be successful, to be a good husband and a good father.”

Benson has certainly been successful in his goals as the Highland football family is a huge community of players, parents, coaches, and alumni who continue to come together for everything from games to mission farewells to weddings.

The impact that this community has had on its members is made evident by people like Noa, who have gone down rocky paths and returned stronger than ever with guidance from their coaches and teammates. Many choose to carry on the Highland legacy by playing in college and becoming coaches themselves. Noa, himself, hopes to play football after high school because he believes that it will keep him on the path to a successful life. With his record, this may prove to be a challenge, but both he and Benson remain optimistic.

“[Noa] is very talented,” Benson said. “Somebody is going to take a chance on him.”