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Gainesville defensive back Nwefo has big academic dreams
Plans on going to school to become a neurologist
Gainesville High School senior Elie Nwefo, 17, measures out potassium iodate Wednesday into a beaker during an AP chemistry class. Not only is Nwefo a top student in his class, he is one of the football team’s top tacklers. - photo by SARA GUEVARA | The Times

Habersham Central finding success through unity

High school football previews: Week 12

Gainesville vs. Dalton

State playoffs

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Bobby Gruhn Field

Tickets: $8

One of Gainesville's best defensive football players has big dreams in life that have nothing to do with football.

Senior free safety Elie Nwefo leads the Red Elephants (9-1) with 85 tackles heading into tonight's playoff opener against Dalton (4-6) at City Park Stadium, but high school football may be as far as he goes in the sport, even though he could probably find a college interested in his athletic talents.

No, for Nwefo every ounce of his focus goes into his academics and dreams of attending medical school to become a neurologist.

He carries a weighted 4.56 grade point average and has covered the range of Advanced Placement courses offered at Gainesville High.

The only way football plays into the equation in college is if it's his only way of covering the cost of attending school.

"My top three schools I'm looking at are Harvard, Emory and the University of Washington in St. Louis," said Nwefo, who spent the first years of his life in his family's native Republic of Cameroon in Africa. "They all have great academic programs and medical schools, too.
"Football (would be) more a means to an end."

However, the same energy that the 5-foot-8 Nwefo pours into academics, he also applies to football.

He's a player who worked hard, had a great attitude, and when the opportunity arose, jumped into the started lineup, according to Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller.

Nwefo believes it was a strong scrimmage performance against St. Pius X this season that solidified his spot in the secondary.

"The tradition here at Gainesville is high and we want to go after the state title," said Nwefo, who ranks eighth out of almost 300 students in his senior class.

With his academic workload so demanding, Nwefo gets to school at 7:15 a.m. every morning and fulfills the weightlifting requirements that most players take care of during school hours.

Then in the evening, it's back to the books for several hours to tackles subjects such as AP Chemistry and English 5.

"Elie is such a wonderful kid," Miller said. "He's so mild mannered, so much fun to be around, and had the sheer desire to be good at football.

"That's what high school football is all about."

Elie, which is the French translation of his full name Elijah, was inspired to focus on academics by his parents, mother Claudette and father Jean-Marie, early in his life.

He has two aunts in his French-speaking homeland of Cameroon who are doctors.

Nwefo's academic background is focused on the sciences, but he's also taken the most challenging courses in other subjects too.

He'd already knocked out AP Calculus and AP Physics as a junior. Nwefo was also a champion in his Skills USA club competition in mathematical application last year. Numerous foreign languages are also something he's tackled.

When his family moved to Dalton from Cameroon on in Dec. 2000, he already spoke French and English fluently. Since then, he's studied Chinese and Spanish.

Some of his other favorite topics of study are the American wars, world history and cellular biology.

This week, he conducted an AP Chemistry lab in which the class diluted potassium iodate and used different variables to change the reaction.

Pretty complex stuff for a high school kid to wrap his head around, but he does it with a vision of what he wants his future to become. Depending on which college he chooses to attend, he may be able to translate courses already completed in high school to college credit.

"Elie is a really neat kid," said Dane Robar, Nwefo's science teacher.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he became President of the United States some day," Miller added.

Even though Nwefo is so academically driven, don't think for a second he's not still a normal kid. He enjoys the camaraderie of playing football and he plays the midfield for the school's lacrosse program.

When there's time, he also fires up his video games for some rest and relaxation.

Even though Nwefo came to the US with an athletic background playing soccer as a child, he didn't take up football until middle school.

Part of it was out of boredom, he says, and needing something to do after school.

His mother allowed the new extracurricular activity on the conditioned that he maintained his high grades. It's pretty safe to say he's done that.

Miller says that Nwefo's influence is felt through the entire program.

Gainesville's coach says that Nwefo cracked the starting lineup with a constant effort and presence at 7-on-7 passing camps last summer that couldn't be missed.

Miller added that having Nwefo and junior Fred Payne as his two safeties is like having two coaches on the field.
"Elie's just a pleasure to be around," Miller said.


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