Westminster football team's Ethan Harvey practices… (Staff Photo by Jen Rynda )
Ethan Harvey hasn't played football in nine years. Before this season, Harvey last played organized football in 2003 — when he was in the third grade.
So what is a 17-year-old doing in a Westminster Owls uniform in his senior year of high school, starting for a team that could make a run for a state title?
Harvey has made an improbable comeback on and off the field this year as a starting lineman and a key cog for an offense that leads the county in scoring at 30 points a game.
Two years ago, Harvey wasn't anywhere near a football field. Many times, he was instead in the principal's office.
He freely admits now that in his freshman year at Westminster, his classroom behavior — being disrespectful to teachers and others in authority — got him in constant trouble.
"I was getting too many referrals (for discipline) and not listening to people," Harvey said. "I was doing my own thing and thinking that I could do whatever I wanted to. It didn't work out."
After being unable to alter his behavior, Harvey was finally taken out of Westminster High, and sent to the school system's Gateway School, a school for students demonstrating difficulties in behavior and emotional adjustment, midway through that freshman year.
He remained at the school for alternative education for more than a year and credits its environment with helping in his turn-around. He said he worked with teachers and staff who not only helped him with his behavior, but also improve his grades.
Gateway to success
"He was a kid with no confidence and didn't think he could succeed," said Heather Semies, who was Harvey's Spanish teacher at Gateway. "He would give up easily and was quite a handful. We didn't know what to do with him."
Semies and the staff at Gateway worked to change Harvey's attitude and classroom demeanor.
"I would not accept his behavior and wanted to work with him," Semies said. "He was completely capable academically, but it was his behavior that was in the way. When he gave me a glimmer, I built him up and gave him hope."
Gradually, Harvey began to show more respect for his teachers and classmates. His transformation was under way.
"They told me to be respectful when people were talking to me and to give respectful answers," said Harvey, the middle of five children. "I learned how to work better with others and get along in the classroom."
About half of all students at Gateway return to their home school after one year, Gateway Principal Robert Cullison said.
"We have three measures of success for our students," Cullison said. "They will do well enough to go back to their home school, they'll be promoted to the next grade or they will graduate (from Gateway). The average stay for a high school student is one year."
It took a while longer for Harvey to return to Westminster. He stayed about a year and a half, returning to Westminster for his junior year.
Semies knew that Harvey had the potential to be a productive student and is delighted he seized the opportunity to apply himself.
"By the end of the year, he had come around in all of his classes," Semies said. "Once he got a taste of success, Ethan realized he could do it. He's a determined kid. He made the biggest turnaround of any student I've ever had here."
"Ethan really deserved the chance to go back," said Semies, who has spent most of her 10-year teaching career at Gateway. "I'm thrilled for him, but not surprised."
"I knew I had to work my butt off to get back to Westminster," Harvey said. "I got my grades up and was a better person when I came back. "
Owl comes home to roost
Upon returning to Westminster, Harvey had some reconnecting to do at the school.
That task was aided greatly when met head football coach Brad Wilson. The 6-foot-1, 365-pounder made an immediate impression on the coach.
"I had him in weight training class, along with three or four other football players," said Wilson, smiling at the recollection. "I told him, 'You're playing football next year.' "
Boosted by encouragement from several Westminster players, Harvey began to show up for off-season weightlifting. He didn't let the fact that he hadn't played football for so long detract from his desire to take another step to improve his life.
"A lot of kids need to grow up and find out who they are," Wilson said. "Here's a kid who got in trouble and decided that he didn't like who he was. Our players gravitated toward him and a lot of the credit goes to them for making him feel welcome."
The other players liked Harvey and knew the effect he could have on the program.
"I told him about how much fun I had and the sense of gratification that you get from football," said senior nose guard Dylan Hixon, a homeroom classmate of Harvey who encouraged him to pursue football.