On paper, as in real life, Jamar Sekona is a big guy, a top college-recruited lineman headed to USC next year, hailing from the same private Marin Catholic High School that launched the vaunted NFL career of quarterback Jared Goff. On the stat sheet, Sekona looks like a guy on a charmed ramble into football.
But before Sekona, a 6-foot-2-inch, 300-pound defensive tackle, ever took a snap of high school football his freshman year, he was overcoming hurdles much larger than the linemen on the opposing side of the ball.
"I've been to thirteen schools before Marin Catholic," Sekona said in the apartment he shares with his mother, sister and her children in Fairfax. "And I've lived in six states."
Sekona was heavily recruited by more than a dozen Pac-12 schools over the summer before committing to USC where he’ll go next year on a football scholarship.
"I mean, he's one of the best ever," said his varsity coach Mazi Moayed. "We've had a few guys come through here that you go, 'Man, that guy's amazing.' Jamar's right at the top of the list."
Up until four years ago, football wasn't even on the radar. Sekona's mother, a caregiver for the elderly, moved from patient to patient taking her son and six daughters with her. The geographical ambling prevented her son from ever planting roots.
"I've never had that stability or been able to make those real types of relationships with coaches, friends or people," Sekona said.
Sekona was two years old in his native Los Angeles when his father, who Jamar said was in the gang life, was shot. Though he survived, he was never part of his son's life. After that, Sekona and his siblings seemed always between places.
"I always call it a leap of faith and we're going on a journey," his mother Margaret Sekona said. "I would tell my kids that every time we would move."
But that changed four years ago when Margaret decided to move her two youngest children, Jamar and his sister, to Marin County to give them a shot at a better life. When no landlords would rent to her because she couldn't scrape up three times the rent, she sent Jamar and his sister to live with older siblings in Utah. Then she moved into her car outside the school.
"The district told me as long as I was staying here in Marin County that my kids would be able to attend the next year," Margaret said, who spent two months in the car saving money and attempting to establish residency. "When it was time for them to start school again, they said, 'Well, you don’t have a residence.' And I said, 'Yes I do — I've been sleeping next to the school this whole time.'"
The strategy worked and Jamar started his freshman year at Tamalpais High School before transferring to Marin Catholic the next year through a scholarship. When he discovered football, something immediately clicked into place.
"I just found a love for it," Sekona said. "It just became a lifestyle, not just a sport."
Sekona's three years at Marin Catholic mark the longest he's ever attended one school. He made friends. He bonded with fellow players, who voted him the team's top lineman. He became a team captain. Sportswriters dubbed him one of the best lineman in the state.
"For what he's been through and sort of how he carries himself and everything else, it's pretty remarkable," Moayed said.
When Sekona moves to USC next school year, he'll become the first in his family to attend college. He's touted as a player who could potentially eventually move to the NFL if he fulfills expectations in college. For his own expectations, Sekona hopes to first achieve the safety net of a college degree. He directs all the credit to his mother and her sacrifices.
"I wouldn't be in the position I'm in without her," Sekona said. "I don't think I'd have the work ethic or the mindset without her."
Each week as Sekona suits up to take the field with the Wildcats, his mother takes her place in the stands — negotiating her work schedule so she won't miss her son's games. Her shy speaking voice is replaced with screaming fandom as she roots on her son and his team.
"All the sacrifices was to make sure he would get this far," she said. "And I think he went beyond my expectation."