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As he leaves his English class, Kitam knows he's got to figure out how to get across in his college admissions statement that he is a product of remarkable parents.
Lunch hour at Compton High easily could be mistaken for an outdoor party. Hundreds of students avoid the cafeteria, choosing instead to hang out in the sunny courtyard in the center of the campus. That's where Hamm ends up. But he's there just long enough to recruit a couple of friends to follow him to a meeting in a classroom just off the courtyard. It's being conducted by Traco Rachal from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. When Hamm enters the room, Rachal, a former linebacker in the CFL who attended nearby Carson High, is reading from the Bible and speaking to 40 students. "Being tempted is not a sin," Rachal tells the students. "It's how you respond to temptation that matters."
The same guys who attended the Bible study class are in the football locker room with Hamm two hours later, suiting up. Football practice occupies the biggest chunk of Hamm's school day. That's by design. The time between school letting out and nightfall is when boys in Compton get into trouble. Football provides an alternative.
At 3 p.m. Hamm starts by getting his ankles taped. Both are sprained badly enough that his coach suggests he sit out. But Hamm declines. With just two games remaining in his high school career, he wants to take advantage of every opportunity. Even on the practice field.
Hamm spends much of the practice like a coach, encouraging the jayvee players, before scrimmaging with the varsity. It's 6:57 and dark by the time Hamm limps out of the locker room, spots his father parked curbside and sinks into the front seat of the car. At home Donyetta has the family's apartment immaculately clean, and the aroma of Mexican food is wafting from the oven.
There is no dining table in the Hamm home. Instead, the family members eat dinner on their laps in front of the television. Plates in hand, Kitam, his parents and one of his sisters and her two-year-old daughter take their places on the sofa.
Suddenly Kitam gets a text message. It's from Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Greg Camarillo. The two have been friends since Greg's brother Jeff taught and coached Kitam in seventh and eighth grade. That was around the same time that Greg started his NFL career with the San Diego Chargers. Together the Camarillo brothers decided to launch Charging Forward, a program that encourages and rewards student-athletes who excel in academics. They based the program in Compton.
The Camarillos aren't from Compton, but their father, Albert, a renowned history professor at Stanford, was born and raised there. At his father's urging, Jeff began his teaching career in Compton and—inspired in part by Greg—came up with the idea for Charging Forward.
Hamm was one of the first boys to join Charging Forward. He immediately became one of Greg and Jeff's favorites. "In 11 years I've spent in education, I have rarely encountered a kid like Kitam," Jeff says.
Although Jeff has since moved back to Palo Alto to become the vice principal at East Palo Alto Academy, and Greg has been traded to Minnesota, they keep in close contact with Hamm, sending him football equipment, getting him tickets to NFL games in San Diego and encouraging him to keep his grades up. These days they are trying to help him through the recruiting process.