Galvin Emesibe stands out amongst the Hesperia High Class of 2009, and it's not just because he's a valedictorian or even because of his name.


Although he was born in Tennessee, "I'm full Nigerian. So that explains the last name," said Emesibe.


Tribe and language separated his parents -- his father was a member of the Ebo tribe, his mother was a member of the Kalabari tribe -- with only English as a common language between them. The passion that originally brought them together was not enough to overcome their divisions over the long term.


"My parents were going through marital problems; they were always fighting," Emesibe said. "When they didn't want us to know what they were talking about, they'd argue in broken English."


When he was 8 years old, his parents divorced and he and his four siblings went to live with his mother and her mother.


"I was really close to my dad," he said. Despite the contentious divorce, Emesibe's father still remained involved in the lives of his children, driving them to school and laying down the law when necessary.


"'I don't care if you guys hate me,'" Emesibe remembers his father telling a car full of chastened unruly children, "'But no one is going to say that Charles Emesibe didn't raise his kids up right.'"


He doesn't like to talk about what happened next and abbreviates the tragedy this way: His mother is dead and his father is in prison.


After bouncing between foster homes, the Emesibe kids were packed up and sent to live with an aunt and uncle -- and their children -- in Hesperia, which was a shock after the green hills of Tennessee and a one time-visit to Disneyland, which set up unrealistic expectations for what life would be like in California.


"With nine kids in the house, it was chaos. It was hard for all of us to adjust."


Emesibe acted out -- and got his mouth washed out with soap by his aunt quite a bit.


But then he discovered sports: At Hesperia Christian School, Emesibe joined the school's flag football team, his first team sport.


"All I wanted to do was celebrate. I'd get to the [endzone] and celebrate."


And his teachers spotted that, despite his acting out, Emesibe was a bright kid, and he skipped eighth grade, entering Hesperia High School as a freshman. He was worried he would be too small to make any of the school's teams, but ended up playing basketball and later football.


School still came easily to him, but with the help of school counselor LaRae Harguess, whose son Emesibe knew from Hesperia Christian, and the lure of playing more sports, his discipline problems faded away.


His senior year, Emesibe joined the school's varsity football program, wearing number 58, just in time for the Scorpions to go unbeaten in the regular season.


"I finally got my shot and I killed it," the defensive end said. He has 12.3 sacks and 64 tackles during the season. "If I'm going to do something, I'm going to go all the way."


His accomplishments on and off the field haven't gone unnoticed, putting Emesibe in the rare position of turning down a chance to attend the University of California, Los Angeles, in favor of a full scholarship at University of California, Davis.


"I really don't think there's any excuse to do something that's off-track," he said. "Ultimately, you need to take care of what you have to take care of."


His plan is to study pre-med, with the ultimate goal of becoming an anesthesiologist -- a plan he's had for years, based on looking at the top-earning jobs in the country, and going down the list until he found one that he thought he would enjoy.


And while his childhood tragedy never leaves his mind, he also won't let it stand in the way of a bright future.


"I just never let it affect me," he said. "I'm not going to use that as an excuse in the classroom."


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.