Above, NFL great Eric Dickerson joins San Fernando High players and administrators in recognizing the Tigers’ academic achievements (Photo courtesy Los Angeles Rams)

Former Rams Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson signs autographs for San Fernando High football players.

Having won eight City Section championships, the San Fernando High School football team is already known for its athletic accomplishments.

But it was the Tigers’ scholastic prowess that was in the spotlight Thursday, as they were recognized for winning an academic challenge sponsored by the Los Angeles Rams. Their efforts were rewarded with tickets to a Rams’ game, $2,500 in equipment from the NFL team and a visit from former Rams running back Eric Dickerson.

“My mother always stressed education,” Dickerson told the packed auditorium during a noontime assembly. “Education was everything.”

Recalling his journey from Sealy, Texas – a town with as many residents as San Fernando High has students – to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Dickerson talked about the perseverance needed to overcome mistakes and the determination sometimes required to stay out of trouble. But, he also talked about opportunities, and he urged students to seize them.

“If there is something you want to do,” he said, “do it.”

Tigers Head Coach Robert Garcia receives a certificate from School Board Member Kelly Gonez.

Dickerson’s visit was the culmination of a contest announced at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, when the Rams challenged players on the San Fernando, Crenshaw, Eagle Rock and Fairfax High football teams to improve their grades. By the end of fall semester in December – just two weeks after winning the Division 1 title – the Tigers had raised their cumulative grade-point average to 2.85, besting the other teams.

“Our athletes are not only winners on the field, but they are winners in the classroom,” said Principal Flora Mendoza-Werner. “We are all inspired by your success.”

Tigers Head Coach Robert Garcia said that as soon as he heard about the challenge, he was determined that his team would win. He monitored their grades, scheduled practice around their schoolwork and emphasized academics over training.

“This was a great opportunity, and I wanted to prove that we could do it,” said Garcia, who has coached the team for three of its City Section titles. “I told the kids, ‘Be all you can be. It’s not all just football.'”

Local District Northeast Superintendent Linda Del Cueto also lauded the players’ progress and their focus on academics.

“You aren’t just student athletes,” she said. “You are scholar athletes.”