Zane Cooke, the valedictorian and a starting offensive lineman on the football team at Killingley High School in Dayville, Conn., delivered a memorable speech on behalf of the scholar-athlete class at the NFF Southeastern Connecticut Annual Awards Dinner on April 27. Cooke plans to attend UConn in the fall and major in biomedical engineering. Here is a transcript of his speech.

Hello, and welcome.

Tonight I have the honor of representing these fine student-athletes as their Team Captain, which comes with the additional honor of giving a speech.

First, on behalf of all us students, I would like to thank you for coming to support us and the National Football Foundation. I believe I speak with all of our voices when I say that without you: parents, coaches, family, whoever you may be, it would not be possible for us to be where we now are. Of all of the teams or activities which I have had the pleasure of participating in, it is the family-like bond of football that is the strongest.

You see before you students from all across Eastern Connecticut, each one a Scholar-Athlete and a testament to the hard work put in by the faculty and coaching staff at each of these schools. It is the efforts of these people, alongside that of the students here today, that have molded all of us into who we now are.

For that is the purpose of football, is it not? True, we play for titles and championships, and yes, I have no doubt each of us loves the game, but beyond that, football teaches. It teaches us about leadership, teamwork, and dedication. On its best days, we learn pride, accomplishment, and how to win with dignity, and on its worst, we are instructed in humility, perseverance, and how to handle defeat with poise.

This award is being presented not simply to athletes, but to Scholar-Athletes. These are the students who have not only handled victory and defeat in football, but have fought every bit as hard in the classroom. Vince Lombardi once said, “Football is like life - it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.” These are precisely the characteristics that football instills in its participants, and it is these characteristics which have allowed those you see before you today to excel in their academics.

So besides the wins, the losses, the statistics and our final records, we all have grown as men and as leaders. Whether it be on the college field, in a classroom or in the community, the traits acquired and the lessons learned by the young men here with me will continue to impact us throughout our lives. We have learned the value of hard work and consistency, and it is this internal drive which has enabled each of us to receive this Scholar-Athlete Award tonight.

So once more, from all of us, your players, sons, brothers and family, thank you for being here tonight and for supporting us all these years, and to my peers, congratulations.

Thank you.