John Pena will be a political science major and says he plans to try out for the Harvard football team once he arrives on campus.
JASON OLIVEIRA: John Pena brings new meaning to the term "big man on campus." The Sanger High senior is the student body president, played three varsity sports, and is set to graduate with honors. He dedicates any free time he has to the multiple community service clubs he's a part of. And to top it all off, the 18-year-old just got accepted into a prestigious Ivy League school despite facing extra challenges during the pandemic.
John Pena calls football his true love. In fact, he grew up around the game, first, as a ball boy, and later, as quarterback at Sanger High, playing for his dad and head coach, Jorge Pena. And while football has always been a huge part of his life, John decided way before high school that his future would be shaped by his performance in the classroom rather than his athletic prowess.
JOHN PENA: Both my parents are teachers. So the standards in my household for academics have always been high. It's always been school first. And everything else comes later.
JASON OLIVEIRA: His family describes John as a self starter. In high school, he lettered in three sports, serves as ASB president, holds a GPA of 4.52, and, oh, by the way, just received his acceptance letter into Harvard.
JOHN PENA: It really opened my mind to the East Coast and Ivy League schools. And, specifically, Harvard was a trip that I took in eighth grade with another family. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Harvard's campus. And, you know, I felt at home-- it sounds cliche, but I felt at home over there.
JASON OLIVEIRA: Getting into any college is a numbers game. But the pandemic made it even more difficult for applicants to get accepted into elite schools. Making the process a bit more challenging was the fact that California had paused standardized testing. That's when John's mom decided to drive him to Arizona just to take the SAT.
JORGE PENA: She was going to do everything. And I was going to agree to anything if it meant that he was going to have every opportunity to have his dream come true. So if that meant, hey, we're going to Arizona to take a test, then that's what we're going to do.
JASON OLIVEIRA: And that decision paid off. John aced the test, scoring in the 99th percentile. His parents say he gives 100% effort in everything he's ever tried.
JORGE PENA: He's made it look easy. To be honest with you, you know, he's very disciplined and goal oriented. So to see him do all these things, it's just kind of how we know John to be.
JASON OLIVEIRA: While John is looking forward to the challenge that comes along with attending an Ivy League school, he hasn't completely shut the door on his football career. The political science major says he plans to try out for the Harvard football team once he arrives on campus in August.
JOHN PENA: From what I heard, the walk-on process is very open, very inviting. So I'm going to take my shot. I'm going to see what I can do. And, you know, hopefully, football's still a part of my future.
JASON OLIVEIRA: Whatever he chooses to do, the future is bright. For Good Sports, Jason Oliveira ABC30 Action News.