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Banning’s Seth Fao focuses on studies, moving forward on and off football field

Sixth in a series of stories profiling top high school football players by position. Today, Seth Fao, Wilmington Banning defensive lineman.

When COVID-19 began to shut down classrooms and sports activities in March 2020, 14-year-old freshman Seth Fao was reeling. His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. His father was undergoing dialysis every other day. Football workouts stopped and he suddenly had to learn school lessons via a computer at home.

“It was really hard,” he said. “I was distracted at home.”

His grades deteriorated rapidly at Anaheim Servite High. He’d eventually check out and began to be schooled at home. There would be no football his sophomore year.

“We tried our best through a computer screen,” Servite football coach Troy Thomas said. “It was a tough time.”

Fao returned to his neighborhood school, Wilmington Banning. A plan was put together to give him a chance to catch up academically and resume playing football. At 6 foot 3 and 230 pounds, Fao has always had the talent to be a standout. Yet college recruiters were leaving him with a blunt message.

“I learned no matter how good a football player you are, you’re only going to go as far as your grades take you,” he said. “It’s serious.”

Fao is on his way to being the comeback student of the year in the classroom. He has been making up classes, improving his grade-point average and putting himself in position to accept a college scholarship offer when it comes. And it’s coming.

He’s a senior defensive end with the agility to chase down quarterbacks. At Banning last season, he was an All-City selection. He played running back, receiver, safety, cornerback and linebacker. He also was a starter for the volleyball team. He comes from a family of older brothers who played football at Banning and Long Beach Poly.

Growing up, Fao said his 350-pound older brother, Sergio, would toughen him up, whether it was competition for food or sitting on the couch. “When I go against people my size, I don’t feel I get hurt,” he said.

Regaining his focus in the classroom is helping him move forward in life.

Banning’s Seth Fao, center, runs as Peninsula High defenders try to stop him in the second half during their win at Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

“It was a unique situation with a lot of outside stuff on top of academic stuff,” Thomas said. “He’s a good kid. I really liked him. He’s definitely a kid that can play and start in the Trinity League. He had a lot going on with his family. We tried to be there for him as much as we could. At the end of the day, he made a decision best for him and his family.”

During the spring, Fao faced more health issues involving his family. His father had surgery. His mother continued with cancer treatments. Football is his opportunity to let out his emotions and escape those issues. He has a lot of supporters helping him to stay on track to complete his work in the classroom so that college options remain viable.

He very much wants to see his mother and father in the stands this fall.

“There’s no other feeling when you have your family and everyone cheering you on,” he said. “It’s euphoric.”

Defensive linemen to watch

Name, School, Ht., Wt., Yr., Comment

Sinn Brennan, Los Alamitos, 6-5, 235, Sr. Spent summer remaking his body

Cameron Bryant, Sierra Canyon, 6-4, 265, Sr. Stanford commit is strong, athletic

Lucas Conti, Corona Centennial, 6-5, 260, Sr. Arizona commit is another effective Husky QB chaser

T.A. Cunningham, Los Alamitos, 6-6, 265, Jr. Top transfer from Georgia comes highly regarded

Seth Fao, Banning, 6-3, 230, Sr. Uses athleticism to get off line fast

TJ Ford, Chaminade, 6-2, 300, Jr. You don’t move him out of the way

Ashton Sanders, L.A. Cathedral, 6-3, 295, Sr. Cal commit is force inside

Jaggar Tavai, Gardena Serra, 6-0, 285, Sr. He’s the fifth brother to star on defense

Matayo Uiagalelei, St. John Bosco, 6-5, 265, Sr. Can be a physical, dominant player

Frederick Williams, Gardena Serra, 6-5, 240, Sr. Edge rusher will be making sacks in bunches

Tomorrow: Weston Port, San Juan Hills linebacker.

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