Many kids go through high school and don’t come remotely close to the finality of death.
But for 17-year-old Malik McMorris, his high school years have forced him to face a difficult set of challenges, and the Mater Dei High School senior has emerged with a new perspective on what it means to come up against the hard things in life.
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The Santa Ana resident’s first word was “ball,” so it came as no surprise that McMorris was destined to be an athlete.
He began playing football at a young age, and over the years McMorris added basketball and the field events of discus and shot put to his athletic resume, all while being guided by his tireless supporter, his mother.
In high school, that all changed. In January of this year, McMorris lost his mother, Lucy Guerrero Martinez, to breast cancer. She was just 39 years old. During her year-plus battle, McMorris joined his father, Patrick, as her caretaker as she fought the disease.
McMorris says his mother still guides him, pushing him to strive for excellence, to achieve the goals she always envisioned for her son.
“Seeing my mom go through what she did, being such a strong lady…it really taught me that there are things that are harder in life than just football or track sports or academics,” says McMorris. “She fought hard, so why should I be able to quit? This is easy compared to what my mom went through.”
As one of the Monarchs’ varsity captains, McMorris plays on both sides of the ball (fullback and defensive lineman) and was last year’s co-Trinity League defensive MVP as well as first-team all-CIF. He helped lead the Monarchs to a track and field state championship in the spring, and was named Sports Illustrated High School Player of the Month for October. And while his teammates have rallied around him, it is the always-positive McMorris who continues to lead by example.
“You have an individual here who has suffered the ultimate adversity. That sets Malik apart,” says Mater Dei’s varsity football head coach, Bruce Rollinson. “But even as a freshman, we watched Malik, his competitiveness, his desire to be successful. Certain kids come to you and they have an innate ability to lead. Nobody works harder than Malik.”
The Monarchs bid for a CIF championship was cut short with a second round exit, but McMorris is looking forward to participating in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in January, competing in both football and track and field in college and pursuing a career that will allow him to use sports to influence the lives of others the way they have substantially changed his.
McMorris never wavers from his purpose.
“I definitely play for my mom. I do everything in thought of her.”