Coming from a broken home and moving around a lot weighed on Nick Vermillion’s mind plenty during high school. But dreams of playing college football kept him moving forward.
The 18-year-old struggled to express his emotions Thursday, as he prepares to graduate from Pacheco High School, something that still doesn’t seem real to him.
He is headed to San Jose City College next month to play football and pursue a college education.
The road wasn’t easy. At age 11, Vermillion’s parents divorced, sending him back and forth from his mother’s home in Modesto to Los Banos, where he lived with his father.
“It was really challenging, because I never really had any stability in my house,” he said. “There was always a custody battle.”
Throughout elementary and junior high, he would trek back and forth between parents, always wishing he could be one family in one house.
During his sophomore year, Vermillion said things got worse. His Dad couldn’t always make rent.
“While I was with my dad, I was staying in the Motel 6 for about a year,” he said. “(My dad) didn’t have a stable job.”
His father was a handyman and carpenter and worked odd jobs, but Vermillion said it was never enough. “We had no privacy … it was just me and my dad in a room. We had our dog,” he said.
Vermillion never felt embarrassed about his situation but he also didn’t share it with others.
“I didn’t want my friends to come over,” he said, “only like my close friends.”
Facing his classmates every day was a challenge, but his passion for sports saved him. “Football, wrestling, track,” he said with a smile, “anything to keep my mind off of it. I was always busy with school because I was in AP (Advance Placement) classes and always had homework. I never really had time to focus on where I was at.”
Vermillion and his dad left one motel only to go back to another motel after temporarily living in some apartments that weren’t so pleasant, he said. “I was really frustrated with my dad,” he said. “I was like, ‘Why can’t you get a steady job or something?’ ‘Why do we have to live like this?’ ”
Vermillion said his dad said he was doing everything he could to make the best of things.
Focusing on his education and support from his older sister helped him strive for a better future, he said. He began applying for scholarships and financial aid, knowing he would be on his own paying for college.
“It was always my dream to play Division 1 football,” he said. “After that, I aspire to go to San Jose State.”
Vermillion applied for the Brett L. Lee PantherStrong Scholarship and was awarded $1,000. This is the first time the school offered the scholarship, which was created by the family of the former principal who died of cancer.
Acting Principal Grace Taylor said Vermillion was well-deserving of the scholarship because he represents the struggles and the strength that Lee possessed while battling cancer.
“Nick has embodied the characteristics of what it means to be Panther strong,” she said. “He possesses strength, honor and treats people with kindness and dignity.”
Taylor said Vermillion’s teachers regularly comment on his dedication to being the best he can be. “He has been a student leader and really focuses on helping other people around him and not necessarily focusing on his own private needs, which has helped him,” Taylor said.
This is the first year Pacheco will graduate students who have attended the school for four years. Graduates are set to receive their diplomas at a commencement ceremony tonight at 8.