This column is part of a series highlighting 2014 Ball High graduates who showcased Tor spirit at its finest, whether through academics, athletics or overcoming adversity.

In today’s educational world, to obtain a full scholarship to play a sport at the collegiate level not only requires aptitude on the field, but also in the classroom.

It’s the dead of summer, humidity practically dripping from the walls in the Ball High gym. Recent graduate Tolen Avery is hitting the weights in the week before heading to Lynchburg, Va., where he will play defensive end for the Liberty University Flames starting next season. It’s safe to say the heat won’t bother him when he gets there.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive tackle, who played four years of basketball and football, finished Ball High as an A and B student. He particularly enjoyed his science classes and will enroll as a zoology major (he has four female dogs, Billie, Casey, Kassidy, and Leslie). But Avery has bigger things on his mind.

“That’s my backup plan,” said Avery about his major. “My first goal is the NFL, of course.”

Based on what his coaches say, Avery has the drive to accomplish whatever he sets his mind to doing.

“Tolen has that quiet leadership,” Associate Athletic Director and basketball coach Jerald Temple said. “He earned the respect of his teammates and was voted captain because they knew he was going to walk the line. His behavior, his attitude, his effort was never questioned.”

He cites the on-campus service organization Communities In Schools for encouraging him to explore out-of-state colleges, even taking him on campus visits. He also singles out coach Kerry Sweeny for getting him offers from Nevada, UTSA, Texas Southern, Northwestern State and Arkansas State.

“Coach Sweeny he’s been there for me,” Avery said. “I didn’t have any schools looking at me, and then I had a bunch of schools looking at me. He was there for me academically and athletically.”

His parents — Betty, who works at UTMB, and Frank, who works at the Transitional Learning Center — also played a big role in shaping him into the man he is.

“They taught me to make the right decisions and guided me in the right path,” Avery said. “They let me make my own decisions, but they guided me, asking me what would the repercussions be, what will happen if I make a particular choice. They basically let me grow up.”

All the hard work in high school — and the extra time in the gym and on the track — has him prepared for the next phase of his life as his takes his talents on the field and in the classroom to the next level. But Avery knows it’s going to take even more to prove himself all over again.

“It’s going to be the best of the best,” Avery said. “I’m going to be ready and be prepared for it. Nothing is going to be handed to me.”

Johnston Farrow is the communications specialist for Galveston ISD.

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