By John Murphy
SELMA – Highway 43 heading from Hanford to Selma is a revelation in late November.
The searing heat of summer is gone, replaced by cooler temperatures. In the distance sunlight pours from the heavens through dark clouds, turning a pair of tall palm trees into silhouettes.
Oblivious to the scenic splendor Nov. 15 was the Selma High School football team and its senior running back Tiveon Stroud. This was his first day back at practice following a long school suspension as the team prepared to meet visiting North in a Central Section quarterfinal playoff game, a game Selma lost 36-35 in overtime.
Stroud played well against North, catching four passed for 80 yards and scoring two touchdowns. But as a student-athlete did he deserve the second chance he received, what do his teammates think of his return and how will the next 4-5 months impact a 17-year old teeming with so much ability?
“Tiveon has more potential than anyone I’ve had in 31 years of coaching,” said Mike Pallesi, Stroud’s basketball coach and unofficial guardian angel. “He just needs to channel it and get out of his own way sometimes. If he ever figures it out he can do whatever he wants to do.”
Football coach Matt Logue has proven to be as patient with Stroud as he is effusive with praise.
“Any time he touches the ball, he could take it the distance,” Logue said. “We’ve used him as a running back, receiver, kick returner and punt returner. He’s so tall that he looks like he’d go down easily, but the lower half of his body is so strong that he breaks tackles.”
He also broke the school’s code of conduct in September, causing him to go on school suspension for five weeks and miss the entire Central Sequoia League season. That was on top of being academically ineligible for the first part of both the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Sitting in his athletic director’s office Nov. 14 with dozens of championship plaques behind him, Randy Esraelian agreed Stroud is an interesting study.
“He’s one of the best athletes we’ve seen at this school, a playmaker in both sports,” Esraelian said. Off the field, Esraelian agreed, Stroud has had his struggles.
But the 17-year-old returned in time for the North game, and his teammates seemed OK with it.
“We can use him to our advantage,” starting offensive lineman Rocky Ortega said. “He has speed and is a perfect fit for where he plays. He did mess up big-time, but he’s a good football player and he’s what we need.”
Starting center Josiah Cuevas has known Stroud since they were 7 and is not resentful about the second chance his teammate received.
“We’re in the playoffs and he’ll be a big help,” Cuevas said. “He’s always been a star player, ever since we were little. He loves sports and when he’s dialed in and giving it his all, he’s an explosive player.”
Following a recent football practice, Stroud sat in basketball coach Pallesi’s classroom, munching on a light dinner before heading for the gym. He is soft-spoken and friendly and it’s easy to see why his teammates like him.
“I know I messed up,” Stroud said. “But I’ve talked to the team and they believe in me and thought I deserved another chance.”
Scintillating, if raw, on a basketball court, Stroud was hard to miss on Feb. 15 of last season in a 14-point, four-dunk, four-block effort against Dinuba. While teammate Will Pallesi (son of the coach) excited the crowd late in the game by making six consecutive 3-pointers, Stroud had teens moshing in the aisles after a rim-rattling reverse dunk late in the first half.
“He passed it to me and once I got it, I saw the rim and threw my arms back and dunked it,” Stroud said after the game. “I just saw the ball in the air and went for it. It felt great.”
Mike Pallesi saw all this potential five years ago when Stroud was a fledgling player at Abraham Lincoln Junior High. He knew that with Junior Ramirez, Manny Singh and his own son headed for the high school, the addition of Stroud could be the final piece of the puzzle that could end Selma’s 103-year section title drought. And Pallesi was right, as Stroud helped lead the Bears to section titles in football and basketball last year.
Regarding his academic struggles, Stroud said he is afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder, making it difficult for him to focus in school.
“When I asked him to join my AAU team when he was in the eighth grade, I promised his mom I would do everything I could to make sure he graduates from college, Mike Pallesi said. “She started crying because she’s been told a lot of things by a lot of people over the years, but she was happy I could help.”
Stroud was pleased as well, eagerly accepting a male role model into his life who would not ignore him, nor disappear on him.
“In the eighth grade I didn’t know how to play, but Pallesi told me to try it and I liked it,” Stroud said. “He helped me and I started doing really good. He’s been there for me and he’s done a lot for me.”
Pallesi just sees a teen with special skills and some obstacles who needs a helping hand.
“If he goes to junior college and gets an AA degree, then he can play at a four-year college somewhere,” the veteran coach said. “After that he might be able to play overseas or in the CBA and be set for the next 10 or 15 years. But if I don’t help out, then what’s the alternative?”