There was just one thing between Lincoln Northeast's Sam Ayars and his diploma — beginning pottery.
Ayars had fulfilled all other requirements except his credit in fine arts. He sandwiches his pottery class between advanced placement calculus, U.S. history and baseball.
He's done well in all endeavors. Ayars carries a 4.0 grade-point average and is 17th in his class of 363 students. A three-sport athlete, Ayars will play football at Colorado School of Mines this fall.
"I'm doing pretty well in pottery. I've made bowls, plates, pinch pots," he said. "I really like working on the wheel, so I'm doing it almost every day. We have lots of colors and so you can mix it up."
Ayars said juggling football, wrestling, baseball and a challenging curriculum takes discipline.
"Sometimes I have to miss a football workout to go to a baseball game, or do a wrestling workout instead of hitting," he said. "The school thing comes easier for me. When you're an athlete, it takes more discipline, so it's easier when it comes to school."
Northeast baseball coach Jerome Ehrlich said Ayars is a key component for the Rockets, playing center field and batting leadoff.
"Sam is savvy as well as smart. He gets the game and understands the situation. He's figured out his role," Ehrlich said. "He's a free spirit. He always has a huge smile on his face.
"We have a tradition. Every time he gets a triple, we chest-bump. I get to see him over there pretty often."
His attitude is a big part of what gets him to third base.
"Any time I hit a gap, I'm going for third. A lot of guys in high school baseball will jog in for a double when they hit the gap, but I'm sprinting the whole time to get to third," he said. "I might have run through a stop sign from Coach Ehrlich, but I haven't gotten caught yet, so I guess it's OK."
Ayars spent his junior year in the Entrepreneurship Focus Program, a daily five-hour program with a focus on entrepreneurship skills in all courses.
"I've always been interested in business and engineering, so I thought EFP would be a little different. We did a lot of field trips and expos," he said. "And I've also taken CAD (computer-assisted drawing) classes in engineering and architecture.
"I'm interested in environmental or mechanical engineering. The beginning classes should give me an idea of what I want to do."
Ayars said his experiences in athletics help prepare him for academics.
"In football, I was one of the better players on offense. In wrestling, I was by no means the best in the room. I mostly did it to be with friends and work out," he said. "Once you go through a wrestling practice, there's not much else that can be harder.
"So when I have a test, I'm not too worried because of what I've been through in sports."
Ayars said both athletics and academics have provided him with a sense of accomplishment.
"The biggest thrill in athletics is winning with your teammates. After all the hard work, all the lifting days in the summer and hard hits, you can see that it pays off," he said. "In academics, you stay up late studying for a test and when you are finished and look up your grade, it makes you feel good that you learned what you needed."