ATWATER — Most people forgive, but few tend to forget.
Trevor Coleman knows it all too well.
Despite all his successes. Despite his opportunities to play football collegiately. Despite a fundamental change in his approach to life and his interactions with the people in it, not a day goes by where he isn't reminded of a poor choice he made four years ago.
It clings to the Atwater senior like an anchor he can't quite cut loose.
Coleman was expelled as a freshman for a fight with another student and forced to spend the rest of the year attending Sequoias.
The linebacker saw right away it was the first step down a slippery slope he wanted no part of and decided to make a fundamental change.
"I'm not saying it was a good thing, but a lot of good things came out of it," Coleman said. "It changed the type of person I am.
"I'm much more humble and nicer to people. It made me more of a team player because I knew I didn't just let myself down, but my team as well.
"I don't think I was a bad kid, but I'm glad I took the right steps to become the person I wanted to be."
The Falcons are happy, too.
Coleman debuted on the varsity football team as a sophomore and developed into one of the best linebackers in the Central California Conference.
He also emerged as a leader at Atwater, being voted captain by his peers and leading the team to the playoffs for the first time in three years.
Coleman rounded out his high school career with a career-high 121 tackles and was named the CCC Defensive Player of the Year. He can add one more honor to his résumé as the Sun-Star Defensive Player of the Year.
"I was pretty pleased with my stats, but honestly the ultimate goal was helping the team get back in the playoffs.
"After two pretty tough years on the varsity, I really liked the experience of winning. We always went out and played hard, but all of a sudden we had something to play for.
"It was great."
Coleman and the Atwater defense were at the heart of the resurgence.
The Falcons showed glimpses of their potential in 2011 with some excellent defensive showings. In 2012 things began to come together.
Atwater raced out to a 5-1 start and then sealed their first playoff appearance in three years with a 21-14 overtime victory over Turlock.
"I couldn't be prouder of Trevor," Atwater coach Bob Valladao said. "He's done a lot of maturing the last three years.
"I don't think he realized how good he could be. He always had that tall, lanky frame, but in the last year he started filling out.
"He's always had good vision and was good in space. And he's always been able to get off of his block and use his long arms for leverage."
Valladao said the quintessential Coleman play came this year against Golden Valley with the Cougars threatening in a goal-line situation.
Coleman tracked the play from the opposite side of the field, closing at the perfect moment to force a fumble and send the Falcons sprinting in the other direction.
It's those instincts that have Coleman projected to continue his football career at the collegiate level.
"Arizona wants me to walk on and I've talked with Sacramento State and some other local schools," Coleman said. "Mount Union (Division 3 national champion) has also been pretty interested, so I have some options.
"I just need to find the school that's the right fit for me."
Wherever Coleman ends up, you can count on him continuing down the straight and narrow.
"Not a day goes by where I don't think about the fight," Coleman said. "I use it as a motivation. It helped me learn not to worry about other people or to sweat the small things I can't control.
"I can't take it back, but I can make sure I'm never in that situation again."