No matter what obstacle student-athlete Jacquese Steen faces, he knows what his goals are, and what it is going to take to reach them.
All the 16-year-old has ever wanted to do is go to college. According to Steen, he is determined to not let anything stop him from playing college football and getting a good education.
“My motivation, ever since I was little, was to go to college,” said Steen. “I’ve been able to stay on the right path and not get into trouble.”
But life has not been easy for the junior middle linebacker and fullback for the Skyline Titans varsity football team. Steen grew up in East Oakland before his mother sent him to live with an uncle in Stockton in sixth grade.
“There were a lot of shootings and killings where I lived,” Steen said. “The crime rate was really increasing. Oakland seemed like it could only get worse at the time.”
The next five years were especially tough, he recalls. Steen’s father and cousin both passed away abruptly.
“My cousin suffered from a mental illness and committed suicide,” Steen said. “He was in his 20’s. I hadn’t seen my dad since I was five. I was 10 years old when my sister told me he had died.”
Not long after Steen’s grandmother died, in 2007, his grandfather died as well. Two years ago, his older brother was shot when he was walking with a group of friends.
Instead of being derailed by these losses, Steen used them as inspiration for his goal of making a better life.
“I think growing up in Oakland, people have excuses for themselves,” Steen said. “People often think that they can’t be successful because of where they come from.”
In Stockton, Steen joined the football team, but the sport did not come naturally.
“I was really clueless and not very good at first,” he admits.
Today, standing at six feet and weighing 220 pounds, Steen is an honor student with a 4.0 grade point average, is one of four captains on his team, and also wrestles for his school. Ed Smith, the first-year head football coach at Skyline high school, said the sky is the limit for Steen.
“He is a good football player and I don’t see much weakness in his game,” Smith said. “His struggles make him a great leader. The fact that other kids and players go through the same upbringing and can relate to him and his situation.”
Assistant Principal Christina Macalino, Steen’s English teacher for his freshmen year, remembers how methodical and mature Steen was the first time he stepped foot in her class. She said her impression of him hasn’t changed a bit and that he is still a resilient, responsible and dependable young man.
“He is the definition of a student-athlete,” Macalino said. “I’ve heard that his family life is unstable, but he never complains and uses that as an excuse. He goes against the grain and I’m super excited for him to go to college because I know he is going to do well.”
Although the Titans are off to a rocky start this preseason losing all five of it’s non-conference games, Steen remains optimistic and looks forward to the challenge of competing against other high schools in the Oakland Athletic League.
“In my sophomore year, many seniors left,” Steen said. “We struggled and there was a lot of uncertainty and negativity surrounding the team. But we just have to be mentally strong and have the will to come out and beat teams. This is what it is all about.”
Steen enjoys studying astronomy whenever he is not wrestling, carrying the football or sacking quarterbacks. He spent a lot of his early childhood looking up at the stars – especially when he felt sad and wanted to cheer himself up.
“A lot of things were going on and I had a lot of family problems when I was younger,” Steen said. “I just didn’t want to feel sorry for myself. Astronomy has always been something that I have found interesting and exciting.”
The future for Steen looks bright. His goal is to get recruited with a college scholarship, either for academics or for football.
Currently, he has received letters of interest from three schools, including UC Berkeley, Arizona State, and Washington University. Other schools that Steen plans on applying to are Oklahoma, Texas, UCLA, Stanford, and USC.
“Steen is a great character kid,” Don Ardissone, the athletic director at Skyline high school, said. “In the summer, he was the one that got everybody on the team working on conditioning and getting ready for this season.”
“He gets the best out of everyone,” Ardissone added. “He’s the kind of player that comes around every blue moon.”