Every school day, Jamarian Caston wakes up at 5 a.m., unfolds his 6-foot, 205-pound frame and heads into the pre-dawn gloom.
He ambles onto the bus, or slips into a car, shaking off the cobwebs on the way to Riordan High School. He's usually on campus by 6 a.m. For the next hour and a half, he cycles through exercises: core, weight lifting and series of stadium steps.
Then, at 7:45 a.m. he heads to his first class of the day.
He is just a sophomore.
But Caston has a dream to make the NFL. So, each day, he works.
Football has always been a release for Caston, who was such a bundle of energy growing up in Mississippi (he moved to the Bay Area at age 6) that his mother, Talya Huntley, recalls him creating field goal posts out of her stockings when he was still waddling around in diapers.
Caston, eventually, began playing tackle football at 7 as an outlet for his incessant bursts of energy.
For Riordan's J.V. team last year, Caston played offense (fullback), defense (outside linebacker) and special teams (kick returner). His teammates call him a Ray Lewis-type leader. But it was an experience outside of high school that helped kick him into overdrive.
Caston's former San Francisco Warriors coach, Fred Velasquez, had heard about a USA Football camp that would be held in the Bay Area and told Caston.
USA Football began in 2002, and now includes more than 90,000 coaches across the country. Recently, it expanded out West — including last year's two-day combine at Chabot College in Hayward.
For two days, Caston participated in a slew of drills and 7-on-7 games. Caston received glowing reviews for his skill and speed, but Huntley noticed an absence of in-depth observations or instruction.
Wanting more from the experience, Huntley headed to Jimmy Thomas, who was leading the event, and told him about her son's dreams.
“Thomas saw I was no-nonsense,” Huntley said. “We took it from there, and Jamarian was invited by USA Football to go to the Boston games.”
The weeklong event last summer, held at Dartmouth College, involved a development game. At the end of the camp, he was picked for the team that would play the Canadian all-stars in February.
In that game at the University of Texas at Arlington, Caston finished with 15 tackles and two deflections but USA lost 28-21. He was named the runner-up MVP.
“The way we played, we hung with them,” said Caston. “This experience has really helped with my skill level. I've seen what I need to do to hang with the best kids in the game.”
Including Jared Mayden, a highly-rated cornerback from Sachse, Texas, who's also in the class of '16. The two became fast friends after meeting.
They talk about attending college together, preferably at a school in Texas.
Caston toured the likes of Texas, Baylor and TCU (Mayden has helped show him around).
His commitment honors the most important people in his life, he said. It's for his father, who had a shot at the NFL before tearing his ACL. It's a way of stoking memories of his grandfather.
Caston remembers his grandfather on his death bed when he told Caston that one day, he would play in the NFL.
“I'm going to keep that promise — I have to keep that promise,” Caston said. “I'm going to the NFL.”
It's why he'd like to return to Texas once the school year finishes, so he can attend camps at the colleges he's considering before heading to Texas A&M, where this year's USA Football summer session will be held.
“We went from a phase of Jamarian playing football because he was angry, to where now, he plays it for the love of the sport,” said Huntley. “He embraces the sport now. It's helped keep him grounded.”
His former coach Velasquez said, “He's starting to see his potential, and he's stepping it up a notch. He has the work ethic where he wants to outwork his opponent. That's the best thing about him.”