Stillman Valley junior Jared VanVleet, a letter winner in football and wrestling, was honored during a joint ceremony by the U.S. Army and Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of 25 national finalists for the Award for Excellence, presented by both organizations.
"When he first told us he was a finalist, we didn't quite believe him. It was quite a surprise," said Jared's father Michael.
Aeneas Williams played for the Arizona Cardinals for ten years. He presented the finalist honors to VanVleet at the Friday assembly. Now enshrined in Canton, he's finding tomorrow's stars, on and off the field.
"When you can begin to search and find all these pots of gold throughout this country, and a young man like Jared can get national attention, not just for sports or academics, but his involvement in the community," said Williams, donning the recognizable tan jacket given to each Hall of Famer.
"I think it's important to honor the kids across the country. They have 25 of them. My son was just lucky enough to be one of those kids to make the finals," said Michael VanVleet.
Williams had a two part message for Stillman's students.
"Begin with the end in mind." "Die empty."
A message of maximizing one's purpose and potential.
"I want these young people to know that they're a third of the population but 100% of our future," said Williams.
Vanvleet fulfilled his daily duty of reading morning announcements, then flanked by members of the military...
"Join me in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance."
VanVleet lead the crowd in a familiar refrain. It was an overwhelming experience for a state wrestling silver medalist, who still has one more year of high school.
"It hasn't quite hit yet but I know eventually it will. I'm excited for my senior year as well, it just adds more to it. It's the most motivation a student could ask for," said VanVleet.
He hopes to pass on that motivation to those close to him.
"My main goal was hopefully to motivate others as well. My teammates, and students at my school. As this is an award that recognizes me, I feel like any student at my school could have the potential to do the same as me."
The spotlight shined on Stillman Valley, with Jared VanVleet as a shining example of athletic, academic, and altruistic achievement. He will be in Canton for August's Hall of Fame induction, where they'll announce the Award for Excellence recipient.