Each month Eastbay is highlighting a top high school athlete by spotlighting their accomplishments both in and outside the game. This month’s winner is senior Brett Kwoka from Saints Neumann Goretti High School in Philadelphia. Brett was nominated by his football coaches for his allaround excellence and leadership both in and outside the game.

“Brett has been the heart and soul of our team this season. Since joining our team and from day one, he has been a leader on and off the field. Brett is a prime example of what a student athlete is all about. He has a 3.55 GPA and was voted 1st Team All Catholic for Offense and Defense.” – Coach Barnes,  Saints Neumann Goretti High School football

Here’s what Brett had to say about what it takes to be a successfull player, student, and leader:

What is your definition of a successful student athlete?

To me, a successful student athlete is somebody that shows excellence both on and off the field, like maintaining A’s and B’s in the classroom, not getting in trouble much, and trying to be a good role model for the community. And then on the field, somebody who’s a leader who dominates with their athletic ability and with their personality.

As a football player and wrestler, what benefits do you see to being a multi-sport athlete?

Wrestling really translates to football, and it’s been a great experience for me to do both. I’ve seen success in both sports because of the skills that help each other out. Wrestling helps maintain my balance, handwork – since I’m a defensive lineman – so it helps with me working on staying lower than my opponent.

What has been the highlight of your athletic career so far and what makes that moment stand out for you?

The highlight of my athletic career was actually this year! I haven’t played offensive line since I was in middle school, but my coach needed an offensive tackle and I said, “Sure, Coach! I can do it for the team.” I went in not expecting much, really, and I got First Team All Catholic, I was dominant on both sides of the football, and it was a cool way to end my high school career.

What was the most challenging part of picking up that position again after so long?

The plays, the timing, just working with my quarterback. I have a very mobile quarterback, so just the timing of when he wants to run out of the pocket and where I have to push the offensive linemen or how I have to really set the pocket. It was fun, but it was definitely a challenge relearning something I haven’t played for four years.

What do you love most about competing?

I like looking across the line of scrimmage and just knowing that the guy in front of me can’t stop me, can’t get by me, can’t block me. I like dominating on both sides of the ball no matter what. That’s why I love competing.

That’s a little different than when you’re wrestling – what’s that change in mindset like for you?

Well the mindset for football is, I do really want to be the best player on the field, but I don’t always have to be. I have teammates I can rely on – especially this year, I had really great teammates who, if I made a mistake, they would make it up for me. But in wrestling, it’s you vs. another guy. It’s one-on-one and everyone’s looking at you. If you mess up, it’s done. You have no one to fall back on or rely on. You either go home or you win in wrestling.

Who would you say is your role model in athletics?

I have two. Aaron Donald and Shaquil Barrett. Out of high school those guys weren’t very heavily recruited. They were a bit undersized like myself, there were a lot of people saying they couldn’t do it, and they found a school that believed in them and they went on to have great professional careers, just proving everybody wrong.

How important is it to you to be a role model for younger athletes who are coming up?

Oh, it’s very important for me. It’s like my driving goal. I don’t really go out to parties, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. I try to give kids rides to and from practice, or back to their homes from school. I just try to be a positive role model in any of my teammates’, opponents’, anybody’s lives. When you’re a good football player, a lot of people have eyes on you, and they always want to look up to you. They’re always trying to look for you to be a larger-than-life human being – to be perfect – and a lot of times people fail at that. But I feel like it’s very important for us to try to be positive and try to help bring up these kids, because they’re the next generation of players and they learn from our mistakes.

Jalen Hurts recently came out and spent some time with your team. Can you tell me a little bit about what that was like for you?

That was an awesome experience. I mean, that guy’s day is massively busy, probably with deals and working out and training and practicing and film. And it was just cool for him to take time out of his day to give back to the community, which is really important, especially for me. Like we were talking about, he’s a role model and is trying to be a positive influence in the community and give back to the city he plays for. So, it’s really cool to see him interacting with us and talking with us, he asked questions and seemed like he genuinely cared about what we played, how we’re doing, things like that.

I know he spoke with you guys a little bit about the different types of adversity you face in or out of season. How do you handle adversity like that in the game? And what do you think is the best way to kind of overcome that?

You just gotta keep your head up. You just gotta keep moving forward, because the worst thing you can do when you’re facing adversity is to stop and drop your head. It’s really easy just to fall back and say, ‘Why me, why this? Why is it happening to me? Why can’t it be someone else?’ But the real question is, “Why not me? Why should it be somebody else?’

Adversity is put in front of me so I can get over it and be better. No truly successful person had an easy life. Everybody who’s successful had a ton of adversity in front of them. If you ask any professional athlete. Any successful businessman. Anybody who’s successful ever.

They always had a mountain to climb.

So, I think adversity is not something we should look at as negative, but positive. Because it’s forcing you to change, forcing you to be better.

I handle it by knowing you just gotta get through it no matter how tough it is. You just gotta keep your head up and keep moving forward, no matter how tough it gets.

So, when we spoke to Coach Barnes, he told us that you have been kind of the heart of your team. What does that mean to you? Is it leading by example? Is it doing what you can to lift up other players around you who are also maybe going through some adversity?

It just really comes naturally to me because I feel like I can relate to a lot of my teammates. Even if they’re going through something I can’t relate to, at the end of the day we’re both football players, so that’s something that we can both relate to on any level. If you’re having a problem at home, if you’re having a problem with your girlfriend, if you’re having a problem with anything or with anybody, you can come onto the football field and you can just forget about all that. And that’s something that I tried to reinforce with all of my teammates.

You come onto the football field, we forget about our worries, and after practice we can talk about it. I can give you a ride home. I could give you some help. I just try to be a positive influence in any of my teammates’ lives.

Do you think there are lessons from the game that will go on to help you face adversity in your life outside of football?

Yeah, there are a ton of lessons in football. You gotta learn how to lose in football. That’s the number one thing. There’s nobody who goes undefeated their entire life. You gotta know how to take a loss like a man and you have to know how to overcome adversity. I mean, we’ve had two comeback games this season that helped teach us that we have to overcome adversity.

And we have to be able to take a loss and to get better from it. Look at the film, reflect on what we did wrong, and keep moving.

What are some of the goals that you would like to accomplish after high school?

I would love to have a successful college career – hopefully win a few Bowl Games, have my school get into the playoffs with deep postseason runs, and get a National Championship. After that, if I’m able to, I’d love to play a professional career. And if I can’t, I would to take over my mom’s business. She’s a financial advisor, and I’m really interested in finance and economics. My parents and coaches have been really adamant about me having a backup plan just in case I get hurt or in case everything doesn’t pan out. I have to have a backup plan to fall on. They said it’s great that I have a dream of playing professional football, but it doesn’t always happen.

What are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to continuing my athletic career – I just can’t wait to take that next step. I’m very excited to start the college process, commit to a college, find a home for the next four years, and then hopefully go pro.




To nominate a deserving athlete for Eastbay’s Game Recognize Game series, fill out the form here.

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