AVENAL — Hanford High School football star Shawn Wills returned home last week to address the next generation of Kings County athletes.
He visited Avenal High School’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes club last Thursday to tell students about his struggles on the field and in his personal life.
“One of the messages I wanted to stress was that even if everything in your life isn’t going right, you can still make a decision to do good,” Wills said. “When you reach that fork in the road, you must decide whether to go left or go right. When I came to my fork, I asked God what to do.”
Wills graduated from Hanford High in 1988 and went on to play football and baseball at the University of California, Los Angeles. He later played ball for the Philadelphia Phillies before coming back to join the California Highway Patrol.
These days, he’s a sergeant stationed in Fresno.
“I’d never been to Avenal High School before,” Wills said. “I came out early so I could spend some time talking with the kids. I always enjoy interacting with younger people.
“You can tell when kids are listening to you. They make eye contact. Even when I cracked jokes, they were staring at me, listening to everything I had to say. It was awesome.”
Wills told the crowd a story from his time in junior high school: A recruiter from UCLA spoke at an event and encouraged the kids to get serious about school if they wanted to end up in a good university.
That day, Wills promised himself he would one day attend UCLA, a goal he would later accomplish.
Throughout his talk, Wills encouraged the students to go to college while emphasizing the opportunities afforded to those with a degree.
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“Many of the kids just wanted to shake his hand afterward,” said Jonathan Lyndvall, teacher and advisor to the FCA club. “The kids are shy and it’s hard for them to express their longings. Hearing the testimony of others draws their hearts out.”
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1954 and is still active today on many university, college and high school campuses.
The FCA club at Avenal High School has been going strong for 13 years now. Their weekly meeting typically draws 20-30 students.
Wills was the member of the FCA throughout college.
“It’s a phenomenal club which encourages kids to make solid moral decisions throughout their lives,” Assistant Principal Eric Smyers said. “There’s a lot of temptation out there — more than there ever was when we were kids.
“We invite the kids to come listen to stories like these from people who have incorporated their beliefs into their professional lives.”
Wills said he plans to come back to Avenal again to spend more time with the students.
“I was raised here in Hanford, but I know there is so much more out there in the world,” Wills said. “I want to open these kids’ eyes to that. I want them not just to reach for the ceiling, but to reach for the stars.”
The reporter can be reached at 583-2425 and jjohnson@HanfordSentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeJ_HS.