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Athletic club shapes future scholars

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John Diaz holds the legs of Bobby Ratiffe, 14, of Camarillo during the Youth Athletes for Christ workout at Adolfo Camarillo High School on April 9. Diaz is the founding coach of the faithbased athletic organization, which helps athletes learn sportsmanship on and off the field. © Richard Gillard/Acorn Newspapers
Josh Harrison was a studentathlete who made a name for himself as a member of Rio Mesa High School’s football and track teams.

Upon graduation in 2007, he was offered scholarships to 15 schools and eventually played Division I football as a wide receiver at San Jose State University.

Harrison said his path to playing at the collegiate level was far from certain when he stepped foot on the Oxnard campus his freshman year.

A standout on the field, Harrison struggled in the classroom until his father, Carl, introduced him to John Diaz, founding coach of Young Athletes for Christ, a faith-based organization that helps athletes learn what it takes to succeed on and off the field.

“I never looked back,” said Josh, who recently graduated from San Jose State with a communications degree. He now works as a marketing coordinator for First Pacific Mortgage in Camarillo. “Coach John does a lot more than teach physical training skills and getting better on the football field. He teaches immature boys how to become men and to be successful outside the sports realm.”

Harrison said that in addition to becoming a more conditioned athlete with YAC, he improved his grades and was better prepared for college.

“Coach John surrounded us with professional athletes and college guys to look up to,” said Harrison, 23. “He definitely helped me find direction, and he gave me the tools to be successful, get my grades up and apply myself in every aspect of my life.”

YAC is a nondenominational faith-based nonprofit in Oxnard that encourages young athletes to reach their goals and fosters community outreach through volunteer work, Diaz said.

“We typically utilize sports as a net to draw athletes in, to help them understand the importance of having an educational purpose and to help individuals to find their ultimate purpose in life,” he said. “Sports are a vehicle to create values about teamwork, about camaraderie, how to compete and achieve some discipline and work ethic.”

YAC offers athletic training programs to improve the speed, strength, flexibility and coordination necessary for all team sports.

Strength training workouts held twice a week cost $100 a month, while workouts held three times a week cost $140 a month.

The organization provided $50,000 in scholarships last year to Ventura County youths to defray the cost of conditioning programs and athletic camps.

YAC also provides academic workshops on time management, note taking, organizational skills and SAT/ACT preps. Twenty-six YAC athletes obtained athletic college scholarships last year.

YAC alumni provide support to current members through a youth mentoring program.

“There are a lot of young athletes out there thinking it’s just about athletics,” Harrison said. “I tell them you’re there to get an education first. Keep working hard in school, and football will take care of itself.”

Harrison was recently hired as a sprint coach at Camarillo High School and works for YAC as a volunteer assistant coach.

“I try to teach (student-athletes) that you can’t just do the bare minimum that every other athlete is doing,” he said. “Whether you’re 8 or 15 years old, you’ve always got to maximize your potential and go above and beyond the average quota.”

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