Second grader Marcus Alfred (right) stands with his friend Eastlake High School football player Isiah Olave on Wednesday at Smythe Elementary School in San Diego, California. Olave has taken on a big brother role with Alfred.
SAN YSIDRO The second-graders’ guest speaker was running late.
“Where’s the football player?” said one boy.
“Maybe Isiah’s car broke,” a girl wondered.
Minutes later, Eastlake High football standout Isiah Olave opened the door to Kathy Applegate-Norman’s class at Smythe Elementary and the students erupted.
Seven boys encircled Olave. One lifted Olave’s University of Utah T-shirt, put his hand on Olave’s stomach and said, “I like your six-pack.”
To the high school football cognoscenti, Olave is the Titans’ two-way senior standout. A lockdown corner and slot back who averages 10 yards per carry and leads the team with 12 touchdowns. His interception total is a measly one because quarterbacks get the willies just looking at his side of the field.
To Applegate-Norman’s students, Olave is the cool kid who shows up to class and talks to the second-graders.
“It feels good knowing that they look up to me, that I can help them out and make a difference in a little kid’s life,” said Olave (pronounced o-LAH-vay).
Ten years ago, Olave was a second-grader in Applegate-Norman’s class.
“Let me tell you something about Isiah,” said Applegate-Norman. “When I was teaching subtraction with money, he could do the borrowing over two or three places, in his head, in a flash, like a computer. He has a wonderful math brain.
“He’s one of those kids you always remember. He has the best attitude. He’s kind to everyone. Just a sweetheart.”
Earlier in the school year, one student, a boy, was struggling academically and socially in Applegate-Norman’s class. She wondered how to reach him.
Then she began hearing about Olave’s football feats. Then she saw a picture of him in a newspaper. She shot an e-mail to Eastlake head coach John McFadden.
McFadden relayed the message to Olave, who showed up at his former teacher’s doorstep. The students peppered him with questions that first meeting.
“How long have you played football?”
“What it’s like to be on TV?”
“What do you do when you get in a fight?”
To the latter question, Olave said, “I don’t know, I’ve never been in a fight.”
Then Olave stepped outside and spoke to a couple boys in a smaller setting. That’s when he met Marcus Alfred, the student who was struggling academically and socially.
“At first, my son had horrible behavior,” said Alfred’s mother, Dianne Thompson. “He was throwing things in class, flipping chairs, turning over desks, walking out of class. The world revolved around him.”
Olave relayed to the boys that if they want to play sports in high school they had to earn good grades. He told them to listen to their teacher, respect their parents.
“Marcus told me that Isiah was cool, that he wants to be just like Isiah,” said Thompson. “And that he’s going to be smart, learn to read and do his math so he can be just like Isiah.”
Before meeting Olave, Marcus earned an ‘F’ on his previous spelling test. His next score: a “B.”
“I almost fainted,” said Thompson.
Olave is listed at 5 feet, 11 inches, 170 pounds. The eye test says he’s closer to 5-10, 160. UC Davis and Utah State have offered scholarships. McFadden thinks the young man’s deserving of interest from more prominent schools.
In fact, McFadden compares Olave to former Titans Tony Jefferson (Arizona Cardinals rookie) and Aaron Baltazar (Boise State’s second leading rusher as a freshman).
Said McFadden, “Isiah’s right there with those guys.”
Meanwhile, back at Smythe Elementary, a success story appears to be unfolding, one touched with Olave’s fingerprints.
Regarding Marcus Alfred, Applegate-Norman said, “I think he’s turning a corner.”