Yanni Halkiadakis, the top scholar-athlete at the NFF Joe Mewhiney (Central Mass.) Chapter, gave a memorable speech at the chapter's Scholar-Athlete Banquet on May 3, 2015, at the Courtyard Marriott in Marlborough, Mass. Halkiadakis was a standout guard and defensive tackle at North Middlesex Regional High School.

As a young child, all that I ever wanted to do was to play football. I remember that every year all of my friends would sign up for Pop Warner and my mom told me that I was too big to play. I settled and played other sports, such as baseball and basketball, but all I ever really wanted to do was play football. When I was in 5th grade my brother joined the football team at North Middlesex and I was very jealous of him. I had been on a team before, but never a team as tight as a football team. It was like he and his friends were part of a big family, and I couldn't wait to have that chance.

So I kept waiting and my chance came one year before high school. One of my basketball coaches told my mom that there was a new football league coming to town that had no weight limits and he thought that I should try out. When my mom told me I couldn't believe it, I was finally going to be a football player. In my eighth grade year I became a member of the AYF Patriots and that is where my love of football began.

My head coach was Coach Steve Parsons and even though I was one of the only kids on the team who had never played football, he worked to make me better. We had an amazing season and all of my teammates became like family to me. In the end, to the surprise of my coach and even my parents, I was selected to go to Florida as a Central Mass All-Star. We finished 3rd in the nation and as a group of kids who barely knew each other we came together as a team. That’s one of my favorite things about football, that on a real team your teammates will always have your back.

After that experience I was so excited to get a chance to play again in high school. My brother was a senior playing for Coach Ruggles at North Middlesex and after watching him I remember thinking that my teammates and I could do great things. From freshman to junior year we may not have had the best record but each year our leadership was improving and we were becoming better as a team.

My greatest memory from those years was my junior year at our banquet. Coach Ruggles was announcing captains for our senior year. He pulled the captains jerseys out of a box one by one. The first jersey pulled was #2, which was my best friend, running back Tyler Zech. Tyler showed throughout the years that he could be a vocal leader. He continued to announce captains and pulled out jersey #11, which belonged to Matt Wetherell, another one of my close friends, and also jersey #12 which belonged to our quarterback John Boutwell, whose dad is the one that first got me to play football.

We usually had three captains and Coach Ruggles is a man of traditions so we cheered and clapped for our new captains until coach told us to settle down because we weren't done yet. Out of the box came a very familiar #77 jersey and my brain stopped for a moment because I couldn't believe that it was my jersey pulled out of that box. At the time all I could think was this is going to be a great senior year. All of these kids I play with were the ones I envied when I was younger because they got to play football and I couldn't. They had years of experience over me but that meant nothing because as soon as I had a chance to play I worked as hard as possible to be the best I could be. That’s one of the best things about this sport: if you work hard you will succeed.

As a tight knit team we went on to have a winning season and become divisional champions. We made everyone proud to be a Patriot. After the past four years, which have been the best four years of my life, I have made so many friends and memories that I will never forget. Our team will always be a family. I am honored to be here today with all of you, especially my family, my friends and my amazing coaches. Although my football career ends here the lessons that it has taught me and the friendships that I have formed will follow me through the rest of my life. I now get to be on the other side of the fence on Thanksgiving cheering on my alma mater and reminiscing with my teammates about when we played. Football is much more than a game, it is a commitment, it is a lifestyle and it is life. Thank you all again for this great honor!