It's not too unusual for high school athletes to decide to walk away from their sport of choice if things aren't working out. After all, part of growing up is discovering what one is really passionate about and choosing to focus on it.
Yet that's precisely what makes the decision of the reigning Southern California Northern Division football player of the year so baffling: He's leaving a sport in which he was lauded as one of the best in the state, maybe one of the best in the nation.
As first reported by the Los Angeles Times' Eric Sondheimer, Westlake (Calif.) High junior quarterback Justin Moore abruptly decided to leave both the sport he has starred in and the school at which he has made his name. The junior withdrew from Westlake on Tuesday and transferred to Simi Valley (Calif.) Royal High, closer to his family's home. He also announced that he was quitting football for good, effective immediately.
That's a stunning turn of events for one of California's most successful football programs, which finished the 2011 season with an impressive 14-1 record. Much of that success was predicated on Moore's overwhelming talent and versatility. The junior passed for 2,483 yards and ran for another 1,099 yards. The star passer had been a starter since the end of his freshman year, providing stability for a nationally ranked program, and had drawn significant attention from multiple college programs. SMU, led by quarterback-guru head coach June Jones, has already extended Moore a scholarship offer.
At the end of the day, that success clearly wasn't enough to fuel Moore's true passion, whatever that may be. The junior's academic advisor said that the teenager had decided he had other priorities, and he made the sudden switch in life goals with the blessing of his longtime football coach Jim Benkert, who simply said, "I support him."
"It seemed like his heart wasn't into it," Westlake history teacher and academic advisor Christian Harrison told the Times. "I don't understand it. It breaks my heart. He's an extraordinary talent. He was a role model for all our kids. Football wasn't what he wants to do."
While that realization has stunned the Southern California football scene, it also should engender respect for a teen who decided that what he had become tied with wasn't what he really wanted.
Given how easy it would have been otherwise, that's a brave decision for anyone to make, let alone a 17-year-old.