During a student awards ceremony in the spring of his sophomore year, Brett DeGraaff was seated near the top of the bleachers at Lynden High School.
When he heard his name called for a National Honor Society Student of the Year nomination, the 6-foot-1, 235-pounder had to tip toe his way over and around classmates and climb all the way down to receive the award.
"It was a long way down," DeGraaff, now a senior, said in a phone interview. "Blake Van Dalen, who is our offensive line coach (with the football team) and was in charge of the ceremony, knew I was going to get quite a few, so he just told me to stay down there. ... First I got one; then I got another. By the time they were finished, I was nominated in every class I was taking except foreign language. Everyone started joking that it was Brett's Assembly."
DeGraaff ended up receiving six nominations that day, two of which he ended up winning Student of the Year awards for in science and physical education. He added a third Student of the Year honor in English as a junior.
Needless to say, the starting guard in Lynden's offense will be one of the best students on the field when the Lions host Mark Morris in the first round of the Class 2A State Playoffs on Saturday, Nov. 10, at Civic Stadium.
DeGraaff owns a 4.0 grade-point average at a school that does not award bonus points for grades received in Advanced Placement courses.
In fact the last non-A DeGraaff received in a class came when he was an eighth grader in middle school health.
"I got a B-plus," DeGraaff said. "It was health, so my mom wasn't too happy with that."
She got over it, DeGraaff said, and obviously so did his GPA, as the lowest grade he's even gotten on a test since then was a B-minus.
"It was in my AP U.S. History class," DeGraaff said. "It was my first test in my first AP class, and it was kind of shocking. Since it was the first, I started worrying about if that was how that class was going to go. I went in and met with the teacher. He kind of understood where I was coming from, and from there I've just excelled. It was my first AP course, and learning for an AP course was a bit different. I had to learn how to learn on my own from reading a book."
DeGraaff's solution to that problem was the same solution he's had to pretty much any other problems that arise.
"I just pride myself in giving my full effort in everything I do," DeGraaff said. "I don't see any reason why not. It paid off for me in football. I accomplished some childhood dreams, and hopefully I'll get to do that again this year."
Among those childhood dreams for DeGraaff was playing in and winning a state championship football game, something Lynden accomplished for the fourth time in six years.
And like he was last year, DeGraaff is a big part of Lynden's success up front.
He, along with Marcus Fakkema, Casey Halbert, Caleb Newman and Matt Meyer have played a huge role in the Lions' ability to roll up 4,221 yards of total offense so far this year.
"I always like to say that the line fuels what you're trying to do offensively," Lynden coach Curt Kramme said. "You can have terrific skill position guys, but if you don't have a line to block for them, you're not going to be successful. But if you've got a great line and average skill guys, you can still move the ball pretty effectively. We're blessed to have some very good guys up front."
And they've been through the battles together.
Though it lost Taylor Witman to graduation last year, Lynden returned five linemen with starting experience this year.
"It was tough losing Taylor, because he was kind of like my mentor for two years," DeGraaff said. "But the guys we still have are a terrific group. Playing with those guys is kind of what I dreamed of as a kid. Honestly, they're one of the best groups of guys. We call ourselves the misfits, because we have all these different personalities, but we work together really well. And with the skill position guys we have, man it's fun to watch."
DeGraaff received his starting position on the Lynden line the same way he's become a success in the classroom - he earned it.
"He's one of our stronger guys," Kramme said. "He's a big guy, but he's not our biggest. His weight room ethic is just outstanding. When you have 40 kids in the weight room, you're going to have some that wander around, but Brett is not one of them. You better have some sweat towels out, because he's going to use it."
But how does DeGraaff possibly balance his hard work on the practice field and in the weight room with his dedication in the classroom and his studies at home?
And don't forget about him being the secretary for the Future Farmers of America, involved in National Honor Society and Lynden's Freshman Mentoring Program or that he's treasurer for the Barn Buddies 4H Club.
"You just have to section your time off and utilize it to the best of your abilities," DeGraaff said. "I'm really fortunate that each group is really understanding, but you just have to be organized."
DeGraaff said he's never missed a practice for football or basketball, which he plays in the winter, but he does often have to push some studies back to the weekend to make sure he has the time to delve fully into them.
"To be as good at two things, like he is with his studies and in football, he's going to have to say no to other things that his friends might be doing," Kramme said. "You have to choose what is important to you, and Brett has chosen his studies and football. I'm really pleased to see him excel in those, because I know how much they mean to him."
In fact, DeGraaff said he'd like to combine the two and continue to play football at college as he studies to become a pediatrician or to go into civil engineering.
Right now, he said he's looking at Whitworth College.
"I can't say enough good things about the young man," Kramme said. "He's a good kid, and I'm going to miss him. Of course, I'm going to be saying that a bunch this year. And with Brett, it's going to be fun to watch him years down the road and see what a success he makes of himself."
Long before that happens, though, DeGraaff wants to focus on his last trip to the high school state football playoffs and the possibility of earning the right to play for another state title.
"Winning it all last year was something I dreamed of, but I'm not sure I fully expected it," DeGraaff said. "Winning the first was amazing, and it just makes you want to do it all over again. It made all that hard work and dedication worth while."
DeGraaff keeps finding new ways to prove that point.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
STATE FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
SATURDAY, NOV. 10
CLASS 2A STATE PLAYOFFS
? First round: Mark Morris at Lynden (at Civic Stadium), 5 p.m.
CLASS 1A STATE PLAYOFFS
? First round: Meridian at La Center (at Battle Ground District Stadium), 1 p.m.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.