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Gizele Farland Stotts


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Connor Stotts is not your average high school senior.

He is an Eagle Scout and an honor student. He is an ROTC platoon commander and the starting 182-pounder on the Oceanside High wrestling team, the anchor of the lineup.

Pirates coach Ben Davis said Stotts has won the program's scholar athlete award the last three years.

"He's going to win it this year, too," Davis said.

During my 10-minute interview with Stotts in the wrestling room at Oceanside High on Monday, he addressed me as "Sir" about a dozen times, and told me about how he started reading books when he was 5. Harry Potter novels and selections from the Marine Corps recommended reading list, including "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card were some early favorites, although Stotts admits that his pleasure reading has been largely curtailed by his studies. He said his grade-point average is 4.05.

"(Reading) helps me understand words and articulate my thoughts when I talk to people," the soft-spoken senior explained succinctly.

The phrase "squared away," came quickly to my mind.

It's not surprising to learn that Stotts' father, Bryan, is commander of the bomb squad at Camp Pendleton. His mother, Gizele, said that the family embraced Christianity two years ago when Connor -- point-blank -- asked his parents, "Who is God?" He followed that up by telling his mom and dad, "I want to go to church."

They have been going ever since.

"He's really unique," Oceanside assistant wrestling coach Omar Nawar said.

How unique? Well, after qualifying for the semifinals in the El Cajon Invitational at Otay Ranch High on Saturday, Stotts had to leave. He had a meeting that day with aides from the office of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, in the hopes of landing the congressional recommendation he will need to be admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy next year.

So even his excuses for skipping out on wrestling tournaments are impressive.

But possibly the most impressive thing I learned about Stotts was what happened to him on July 31 of this year.

Following a church service at the beach near the Oceanside Pier, Stotts was swimming with some other kids from the church when a riptide kicked in. Stotts ended up pulling three of his friends -- two girls and a boy -- to safety on the beach, where they were eventually treated by paramedics.

Without his intervention, Davis said it is possible one or two of the imperiled swimmers would not have made it back to shore.

Gizele Stotts said she feels that her son's commitment to wrestling might have been the difference between life and death that day.

"If Connor had not been at five wrestling camps this summer, would he have been able to go through that riptide three times?" she asked.

Stotts, in characteristic understatement, may have answered that question when he talked about what drives him to achieve so much.

"There are goals that I set, and I want to complete those goals," he said. "I'm very confident."

I asked him if that meant he wasn't sweating the meeting with Issa's aides on Saturday.

"I was very nervous," he said. "But I wouldn't let that stop me."

It sounds like that riptide was just slightly overmatched.