Civil making the most of every opportunity

Meet Andre Civil -- Sheepshead Bay (Brooklyn, N.Y.) senior.

A quiet, respectful kid who goes to class and stays out of trouble, he even spent the spring and summer working 20 hours per week at a movie theater to earn money and learn responsibility.

Now meet Andre Civil -- Sheepshead Bay defensive end.

A 6-foot-4, 245-pound Rutgers recruit, the top-rated football player in New York City becomes loud, hyped and ready to run through a wall (or an offensive lineman) when he steps onto the gridiron.

"As soon as I throw on my pads in the locker room, I change into a different person," Civil says. "It's go time. The old Andre left and it's time to play."

"It's like any athlete with that competitiveness on the field," adds 14th-year Sheepshead Bay coach Fred Snyder. "That's your venue where you can let it all hang out."

Civil's transformation is similar to that of a character he became quite familiar with at the movies this summer: The Incredible Hulk. On the field, the emphasis is on incredible. He recorded 51 tackles and seven sacks for the Sharks last year, despite facing double-teams and offensive schemes that were designed to run the ball away from him.

"If teams see No. 52 on one side, they try to run the opposite way," says Civil, referring to his jersey number.

It wasn't always that way.

As a freshman on Sheepshead Bay's junior varsity team, Civil enjoyed playing football in his first year of organized competition, even if he didn't necessarily understand the finer points of the game. His technique basically boiled down to: see ball, chase ball, knock down player carrying ball.

Civil enjoyed the camaraderie with the Sharks on the gridiron. But after spending much of his childhood hooked on basketball, he wasn't convinced football was the game for him.

Then one play from that inaugural season changed everything. Even now, three years later, Civil can remember it in astonishing detail. Madison, the opposing team, faced a third-and-four. The Golden Knights called a running play where the tailback tried to swing outside for the first down. Civil shed his block and prepared to tackle the ball carrier.

"He tried to lower his shoulder, but I hit him and he flew backwards," Civil says. "That's the moment I said, 'This sport is for me.' Ever since then, I've been looking for hard hits."

And he's delivered plenty.

But Civil hits the books just as hard. After his grades suffered early in his freshman year thanks to self-described laziness, Civil quickly got his act together when he realized football could open the door to a college education. Helping things along were his parents, Felix and Gladys, who guided their son every step of the way.

"My father says he wishes he had the opportunity I have," Civil says. "He grew up in Haiti playing soccer with bare feet. He always tells me America has a golden road as long as you make the right choices."

With his mother ("the strict one," according to Civil) enforcing his 10 p.m. curfew, Civil began making all the right decisions. By the end of his freshman year, he had become such a model student-athlete that Snyder considered making him a varsity captain as a sophomore, something he'd never done before. He decided against it, but couldn't get over Civil's maturity.

"He never fooled around and always got done what he was supposed to," Snyder says. "He did it more than some of our seniors who were supposed to be leaders."

There was no magic formula or secret to Civil's success. He improved simply by showing up every day on time ready to work hard.

"He wants to get better and does the things he's supposed to," Snyder says. "He focuses on the fundamentals and always does the correct things in drills."

As time has gone on and Civil has developed into a star, there's been no change in his demeanor. He hasn't gotten a big head from the media coverage or college coaches calling his school every day. Even after making his commitment to the Scarlet Knights, he didn't begin to slack off in the weight room or classroom.

If anything, he made things tougher for himself. No longer feeling challenged by the routine of school, homework, football and training, Civil added part-time job to his résumé last spring with the movie theater gig.

So at the same time he was choosing Rutgers over other suitors like Syracuse, Clemson and Georgia Tech, Civil's daily schedule read like this: wake up at 6 a.m., do homework for an hour, go to school, work out, then work a 6 p.m. to midnight shift at the movie theater (the only acceptable excuse for staying out past curfew).

"It's nice to have some extra money in my pocket," Civil says. "But I also get the feel of real life."

And it's a real life accomplishment -- not a goal on the football field -- that Civil has made his No. 1 priority. Thanks to his football skills, Civil, the youngest of five siblings, has the opportunity to do something no one in his family has before: earn a college degree. Thanks to his own hard work and his parents' support and tough love, he's in position to make it happen.

"It's good to have parents that are always on you," Civil says. "It gets excessive, but I love it. I'm working hard because my mother put me on this earth and I want to be the first in my family to succeed in college."

So while there may be two distinct sides to Andre Civil -- the person and the player -- it's a desire to attain greatness that makes each great.

And Rutgers is going to love them both.

Ryan Canner-O'Mealy covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com.