Vintage High senior lineman Jack Odell and Calistoga High senior back Jesus Rojas-Mendoza have been selected to represent Napa County as the outstanding lineman and back for the 2019 National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Scholar Athlete Awards program.

The pair, selected by county media members out of 12 candidates, will attend the Northern California Chapter banquet, along with representative from schools in the 12 other counties that comprise the Chapter, at the San Francisco Airport Marriott on March 13.

There, the Chapter will award each of the 24 representatives, two from each county, with a $1,000 scholarship to help pay for their colleges.

To be selected to attend the banquet, representatives must meet a number of requirements. The main stipulations are that you must be a senior football player, have at least a 3.0 grade point average and have demonstrated leadership abilities at school and beyond.

Candidates are determined based on how they fare in the categories of academic achievement, football ability and performance as well as leadership and citizenship at school and in the community.

Odell and Rojas-Mendoza were standouts in each category.

Here’s a closer look at Napa County’s scholar athlete representatives:

Jack Odell

Like many linemen, Odell’s impact on the game goes far beyond the stat sheet.

Listed as a 6-foot-1, 250-pound offensive and defensive lineman, Odell was a three-year starter at center and was twice voted team captain by his teammates. During his varsity career, he helped lead Vintage to the playoffs in each of the last three seasons and helped them compile a 28-7 overall record over that span. In each of those seasons, the Crushers ran for over 2,800 yards and 50 touchdowns in large part thanks to his play.

For his unheralded efforts in the rushing game, he was named to the First-Team Offense for the Vine Valley Athletic All-League team for both his junior and senior seasons. He was always named the VVAL Lineman of the Year as a senior.

With him at center, Vintage won the first two VVAL league titles and went 12-0 in league play over the last two years. To cap his football accomplishments, the Crushers made it to the semifinals of the North Coast Section playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

Vintage head coach Dylan Leach said in his letter of recommendation for this honor that Odell is “considered the best center in school history.”

Off the field, Odell was equally impressive.

He’s been a leader and officer in the Napa County 4-H Chapter and put his livestock knowledge to use during the 2017 wildfires. A sophomore at the time, he volunteered his time to evacuated large animals like horses, cows and pigs to Napa where he housed and cared for them.

Leach also relayed that Odell had “100 percent attendance” for the Crushers community outreach events where he volunteered more of his time to organizations like Cycle For Sight, the Napa Food Bank and the Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon as well as taking part in read-a-thons and carnivals at various elementary schools in Napa.

As a two-year team captain for the football team, he also organized and led team bonding trips.

“His leadership and commitment to the community will be sorely missed,” wrote Leach.

Added Vintage High Athletic Director Cameron Neal, “He is a natural born leader of men. He is going to change the world in which we live. I have been a teacher for twenty years and have come across many wonderful students. I have been the Athletic Director for nine years and have witnessed incredible student-athletes each and every year. That said, I can honestly say that have not seen a student-athlete with as much integrity and leadership ability as Jack Odell.”

Odell’s brother, Michael, was chosen to represent Napa County for this honor in 2013.

Jesus Rojas-Mendoza

Like Odell, Rojas-Mendoza is an exemplary athlete and well-rounded citizen.

Aside from football, he excelled in baseball, basketball, soccer and track and field and has been a team captain for a majority of the teams he’s been on during his prep career.

On the pitch, he helped lead the Wildcats to two consecutive North Central League II titles as a junior and senior. On the court, he was a starter for the 2018 boys basketball team that qualified for the NCS playoffs, breaking a 12-year drought for the program. As a runner, he set two Calistoga Junior High records and competed in the 2015 Junior Olympics Cross Country National Championship. On the diamond, he’s been a three-year starter and has been named the team’s MVP twice.

Oh, and he’s garnered multiple all-league selections in every sport he’s played.

On the gridiron, he carved out a role for himself with his skill and athleticism and became a dangerous two-way player. His last two seasons under head coach Jim Klaczak he’s been an all-league selection and helped lead the Wildcats to four consecutive winning seasons. He finished his football career with an overall record of 22-13.

Klaczak called Rojas-Mendoza “one of the finest young men I have ever been associated with on or off the football field.”

In the classroom, Rojas-Mendoza overcame more than most. He was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age but still went on to post a 3.43 GPA in his high school. He plans on attending San Jose State University in the fall.

In the community, Rojas-Mendoza has volunteered with many organizations, including the Upvalley Family Center and with the Science Department at Calistoga High.

“In my personal experience I haven’t come across too many athletes who have shown the resilience to persevere through the difficulties that a learning disability like this can throw at you,” wrote Ruth Gelinas, a retired special education teacher. “He worked harder, asked for help and made it work.”

Other Napa nominees

Aside from Odell and Rojas-Mendoza, 10 other seniors were nominated, two from each high school. Out of the 12, though, only five met the minimum grade requirements.

The other lineman nominees were: Christian Kappler, Justin-Siena; Rowan Knight, St. Helena; Jose Santos, Napa; Christian Tovar, Calistoga; and Kekoa Wilson, American Canyon.

The other back nominees were: Harrison Barrett, Vintage; Justin DelRosario, American Canyon; Nolan Dunkle, Justin-Siena; Jake Mendes, St. Helena; and Cole Rasmussen, Napa.

For more information, or to purchase tickets to the banquet in March, contact Bob Keropian of the Northern California Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame at 650-342-4775.

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Contact Gus via phone at 707-304-9372 or email at gmorris@napanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustGusMorris.


Sports Reporter

Gus Morris covers St. Helena and Calistoga sports for the Napa Valley Register. Before joining the Register in 2018, he covered collegiate sports for the student publication at the University of Oregon.