Raiders mix brains and brawn
By Dean Spiros
McClatchy news services
NORTHFIELD — What are the odds Northfield could start the football season with a 1-3 record yet still reach the Class AAAA championship game? The math is beyond most people, but there's a decent chance at least three Raiders could come up with the answer.
Seniors Rob Allen, Yujie (Ritchie) Sun and Christian Shepley, all starters for the Raiders, also happen to be ranked first, second and fourth academically in the Northfield senior class. All three excel in math and science.
The stereotype of the dumb jock never has gained much traction at a school known for strong academics. Similarly, "gifted student" is not used interchangeably with "four-eyed nerd." The only time the words "pocket protector" are used around these three is during a discussion of the team's passing game. Two supposed separate worlds appear to be meshing quite nicely.
"Some of the conversations I've heard along the line or in the locker room are kind of different from what I am used to,'' Northfield coach Bubba Sullivan said.
Allen scored a 34 on the ACT and a 2,090 on the SAT, both outstanding scores. Sun also scored 2,090 on the SAT and received a 33 on the ACT. Shepley's SAT score was 2,070, and he is waiting for his results from the ACT.
"They are a great representation of what high school sports and what high school life should be,'' Sullivan said. "They're well-rounded and involved in a lot of things.''
Shepley, a wide receiver and defensive back, is a two-year starter in football and in basketball as the Raiders' point guard. He said he has received some attention from Division I schools for basketball but dismisses them for one eye-opening reason.
"The academics at the schools that have contacted aren't as good as the Division III schools I'm looking at,'' he said.
Mixing math, football
Sun is a member of the Northfield math team, which sees its state competition coincide with the football playoffs.
None of the three ever want for something to do, but feel staying busy has taught them the value of time management. And there's always time for a little fun. All three admit to a friendly rivalry among them to see who can earn the highest academic honors.
"It's not a harsh competition,'' Allen said. "There isn't a lot of gloating going on. We actually try to push each other to do as well as we can.''
Allen and Shepley have had a lot of classes together, so they are always checking with each other on test results. Asked what happens if Allen gets a 95 on a test and he gets a 90, Shepley said, "I usually go ask the teacher what I did wrong.''
All three have grade-point averages above 4.0 on a 4.0 scale due to the number of advance placement (AP) classes they have taken. Allen is the only one of the three to have received less than an A on his high school report card.
He received a B for the first semester of an AP history class his sophomore year.
Not that Shepley or Sun would ever bring that up in a conversation. Sullivan points out that while the three have similar makeups, each offers a unique twist.
"Christian is very competitive,'' Sullivan said. "Whether it's football or basketball, he's a serious dude out there. Robbie is a serious guy, too, but he can be a clown when he wants to be. I know he likes to pick on a few teachers, kind of give it back to them.
"And Ritchie is one of the few guys on the team who provide comic relief for the team. He's also one of the few vocal guys we have on the team. He will hoop and holler a little bit.''
Allen, a two-year starter at center, also wrestles and competes in the shot put and discus. He hopes to be accepted at Stanford, but also is considering playing football should he at a Division III school.
The message passed on from his parents regarding athletics was to always take as challenging of classes as he could to maximize his potential. His dad, Mike Allen, is an assistant football coach at Northfield.
"So I've always been around the Northfield football team,'' Allen said. "Football always has been a big part of my life; all sports have.''
Sun, whose parents were born in China, said he didn't get involved in sports until middle school. Along with playing both ways along the line, he trains as an Olympic-style weightlifter.
Sun is considering pre-med as a focus in college. His mother recently took a job with the FDA, so he said he'll likely join his family on the East Coast when he decides on a school.
"Maybe Dartmouth,'' he said. "I'm sure I'll find a good school out there.''