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January 18, 2010There was a time, not long ago, when Bishop McNamara's star safety Nicholas Law didn't play football.
There was a time, not long ago, when Law's parents wouldn't let him play sports period.
"I was so bony and small they thought I'd get hurt," Law said. "I came into high school weighing less than 130 pounds."
"That's true -- we didn't want him to do contact sports," Law's mother, Melody, said. "But he did play a little flag football and he was an avid horseback rider growing up."
At less than 130 pounds, perhaps he could have been a jockey. But that dream quickly died.
Three years, 50 pounds and a mega growth spurt after his horse-riding days, Law is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound phenom football player. He's destined to be the next great defensive back from the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
Last year the junior racked up 61 tackles, two forced fumbles, four sacks and two interceptions. He recently landed his first scholarship from N.C. State and offers from Maryland, Syracuse, Connecticut and Rutgers are soon to follow.
That's quite a dramatic role reversal for the boy who didn't play sports.
'"For him to come in and have the impact he did, we didn't expect that all," said McNamara coach Bryce Bevill.
No one did. Least of all Law himself.
Three years ago Law had no set goals or aspirations. School? Who needed it? Football? An afterthought.
"I didn't take anything seriously," Law said. "I was always fooling around."
Law needed direction. So for the first time in his life, his parents encouraged him to play a sport, which would provide structure and discipline.
Law never disliked contact sports growing up - he merely never played -- so he agreed to the idea. In the fall of his freshman year, the 130-pound kid who looked like a broomstick followed his friends to the gridiron.
"I still didn't think I had much potential," Law said. "I was just a skinny kid who never played sports before."
Law didn't do much as a linebacker on McNamara's jayvee team. Sure, he could run pretty fast and he picked up the game rather quickly. But he didn't dedicate himself the way the great ones do.
After the season, his junior varsity coach sat him down for a talk.
"He told me I had a lot of potential but I had to work hard to improve," Law said. "He told me I had a chance to get a scholarship."
The lure of a free education struck a chord. For the first time in his life, Law had a goal to strive for. His grades improved - coaches told him only academically qualified athletes could play college football - and so did his body. In the offseason he worked out daily in the weight room and on the track.
By the time spring workouts started his GPA was around a 3.0 and he was up to 150 pounds.
But it wasn't enough to impress the varsity coaches.
"We thought he needed a little more seasoning and plus we had some older guys who were in front of him," Bevill said. "So as a coaching staff we decided he'd do better starting on jayvee and being the big fish in a small pond."
So Law spent the entire 2008 season on jayvee. He started at linebacker and wide receiver and torched the competition with his speed and newfound strength. Law was determined to make varsity as a junior.
Unlike his freshman year, Law spent extra time lifting and running in preparation for varsity football. He even worked out with McNamara's established varsity elite - receivers Brandon Coleman and Matt Goldsmith.
At the start of his junior year Law was up to 180 pounds. On top of that his fall semester GPA was a 3.3.
Law was on his way to high school football glory.
"I literally got better at everything I did," Law said. "I guess all that hard work and dedication paid off this year."
Bevill and the Mustangs coaches were taken by Law's 180-degree transformation. He still wasn't big enough to play linebacker in the rough WCAC, but he had the perfect size and speed (4.5 in the 40-yard dash) for safety.
Law's "welcome to varsity" moment came in the season's third game. McNamara was playing St. Alban's, the 2008 D.C. champions. Late in the fourth quarter the Mustangs were clinging to a 28-21 lead, but St. Alban's was driving. They moved all the way into McNamara territory before Law ruined their comeback hopes.
On a pass play, the ball-hawking safety-linebacker read the quarterback's eyes, stepped in front of the throw and recorded his first varsity interception. He proceeded to run it back 89 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.
"I told my coach before the game if I got an interception I was going to take it to the house," Law said. "And I did.
"I felt pretty special," Law continued. "Everyone knew I was pretty good from practice, but that sort of proved that I could be a playmaker on the field."
Count Bevill among the believers.
"You could really see his athleticism on that play," Bevill said. "And after that he made plays throughout the year and caused a lot of havoc.
"He's very physical, he's a heck of an athlete, he knows the game very well and he has good technique. He attacks the football."
Law compares himself to the high school version of Ed Reed. He relishes the big hit from his days as a linebacker, but he also loves ending a drive with a big interception.
In order to be the next Reed, however, Law realizes he still has plenty of work to do. He isn't satisfied with what he's accomplished so far.
"I can see how others think I had a great season, but I wasn't particularly impressed," Law said. "I know I can do even better next year."
In preparation for a breakout 2010, Law has begun 6:30 a.m. workouts. He returns to the weight room in the afternoon for team lifting. Then in the evening he studies technique and hones his safety skills.
"Without a doubt he's destined to be successful at the next level," Bevill said.
Is this the same pipsqueak who three years ago never played sports? Is this the same goof-off who had no goals?
"I have something I want now," Law said. "I want to be the total package. That's my ultimate goal as an athlete."