Prep school football star takes a well-traveled road to Stanford
Shayne Skov is a standout football player and student at Trinity-Pawling
He is the highest ranked recruit in school history and will attend Stanford
Skov may have to leave school early to help care for his ailing mother
PAWLING, N.Y. -- They left for the Mexican border in the summer of 2001.
Stuffed into a station wagon, Peter Skov and his wife, Terri, rode in the front while their 12-year-old son, Shayne, and his younger brother, Patrick, and infant sister, Annika, sat in the backseat. Seeking a fresh start south of their Piedmont, Calif., home, the Skovs had two reasons for leaving. In the months prior, Peter, a white iconoclast, who married a black woman and enjoyed an itinerant's wanderlust, had watched the market crash and his Silicon Valley dot-com go under. Worse off, Terri, a San Francisco firefighter, had been diagnosed with an aggressive strain of multiple sclerosis, an incurable condition in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system. She had been placed on permanent disability.
Freed from work-related responsibilities, Peter, a Cal grad who had spent 12-hour days as a high-tech salesman, wanted a chance to relieve his wife's stress and reconnect with his children, for whom he had grown emotionally detached. The destination was Guadalajara, Mexico, a humidity-free, urban outpost in the Sierra Madre mountain range some 6,000 feet above sea level, where the climate would suit his wife. "I had long thought about going back," says Peter, who did volunteer work in the area after graduating from Berkeley in 1985. "The attitude was just, 'Let's try to solve a lot of issues at the same time.'"
The children quickly immersed themselves in a the neighborhood. They attended the American School Foundation of Guadalajara, the only U.S.-accredited institution in Mexico's second-largest city. To impart humility, Peter, who witnessed students being dropped off in limousines by chauffeurs, gave each son a peso to take the public bus along with the day laborers. Half of the children's classes were in English, the other half in Spanish. "We were talking to kids with our hands until we learned the language," Patrick said.
For sport, Shayne played American football in spartan conditions. Without resources for upkeep, the practice field had no grass and was hardened into compact dirt littered with shards of glass and pebbles. Reflective of the macho culture, coaches encouraged hitting. "Those were the hardest practices I've been through," said Shayne, who was nicknamed "El Gringo," a Spanish term for outsider. "American parents would have complained."
Passion for the game, however, wasn't a problem. Youth teams traveled up to eight hours for games, which took place in the summer, and supporters would rent as many as 15 buses to caravan for games in various age levels. Opposing teams would house their counterparts and drink in the festivities past dark. "They just flooded the area," Peter said. "It was a sight like no other."
Shayne, who stayed through the eighth grade, now plays a world away from the dirt fields. After returning to Piedmont for two years of high school, he transferred to the Trinity-Pawling School, an all-boys boarding school in Pawling, N.Y., in the foothills of the Berkshires. Blessed with a unique worldview, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker is the blue-chip prospect in a blue-blood setting (tuition $41,250 per year) and the highest-rated football prospect in school history. As the 18-year-old face of Stanford University's geographically-diverse recruiting class (seven four-star recruits from five states), he is a rarity in the Erickson Conference of the Founders League -- a collection of traditional New England Prep Schools known more for producing politicians than football stars.
"I used to play in front of bigger crowds in Mexico," said Shayne, whose games draw few fans on Saturday afternoons because students have weekend classes and must partake in their own sports. "You can hear the pad-on-pad hits ricochet off the mountains."
Playing for the Pride, he has flourished, fusing a mind that tackles physics equations to a body that is a study in destructive motion. Academically, he's registered a score of four or five on five AP tests and an SAT of 2060. Athletically, he ran a 4.64 40, earned first team All-New England honors and starred on last year's one-loss New England Championship team. Much like Florida State cornerback Myron Rolle, who emerged from a similar setting at The Hun School in Princeton, N.J., to become both an NFL draft prospect and Rhodes Scholar candidate, Skov's potential, both on and off the field, appears limitless.
"A lot of kids come for the discipline," said Dave Coratti, Trinity-Pawling's football coach and assistant headmaster. "Shayne came with an open mind and we've tried to expand it even further."
As one of the two writing samples required for admission to Stanford, Shayne submitted an essay reflecting on his three-year stay in Mexico. He wrote, in part:
"When I step back and reflect on those years of leaving California all the way to the present, I am amazed at the opportunities my parents were able to provide ...Unbeknownst to me, my childhood experience would deeply impact my life, long after I returned to the United States."