James Sharperson wanted to find just the right name.
When his first child, a son, was born at a downtown Columbia hospital, the accountant knew naming the boy was an important task.
"They like for you to name the child as soon as it gets here, but I wanted to wait, to look in his eyes and see what I felt and what I saw so I could give him a name that I felt like belonged to him," James Sharperson said.
It took a few days - and some pestering from the nurses over the blank birth certificate - for the new father to find the right words.
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The boy's name would be Akil, which means "intelligence; wisdom; one who uses reason" in Arabic. His middle name, Rashid, translates "a guide to the right path."
In the 18 years since the boy's birth, James Sharperson has come to resemble a prophet.
Akil Rashid Sharperson today is one of the top performing seniors at Columbia High. He maintains a 3.9 GPA in Honors and Advanced Placement classes.
"Since elementary school, I always tried to get the best grades," he said. "For me, success is perfection. That's my ultimate goal."
He usually succeeded.
Sharperson has been an honor student since the first grade, has been named to the National Honor Roll and listed in Who's Who among America's High School Students.
Sharperson said his competitive disposition drives him to push for "the most A's" on each report card. His curious and studious nature gave him a leg up in that challenge.
"I like to watch the History Channel and the Discovery Channel. A lot of times they have documentaries on things I'm really interested in and I'll end up sitting and watching the whole thing," Sharperson said.
Sharperson balances his academic interests with a love for the game of football - another field in which he has excelled.
At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Sharperson is a team captain and the second leading tackler for the Capitals.
While academics have remained his first priority, football runs a close second.
"Any week we have a game on Thursday or Friday, that's the highlight of my week," he said.
GROWING UP WISELY
James Sharperson saw this coming.
It is what he knew would happen from that first moment he looked into his baby boy's eyes - and it is what he believed when he first called the boy "Akil."
"Akil, from a very young age, has always been the definition of his name," the father said.
Before he could walk, Akil would sit in his high chair, flipping through the pages of pictureless books as his father read the newspaper. He probably couldn't understand the words, but he was mimicking his father. James Sharperson aimed to nurture his son's natural ambition.
As Akil grew, his father kept him involved in activities meant to develop him as a student, a leader and a team player.
"We weren't thinking about college as much as just really for him to be a good and productive person," James said.
The father and son often talk of the future.
"I try to encourage him to think of tomorrow and what he needs to do today to have the kind of tomorrow that he wants for himself and my (future) grandchildren," the father said.
His son has never strayed far from that track.
"There are a lot of examples of people who had a chance to go somewhere or do something special, and they got sidetracked because of bad choices and distractions," Akil said. "I just never want that to happen to me."
As a lifelong vegetarian, Sharperson has plenty of practice in resisting temptation and not conforming.
In the Youth Corps program, he learned to be a leader.
"After he had finished the program and we still needed help with things at the office, he would come straight from football practice and help stuff newsletters," Youth Corps director Jeff Becraft said. "When you're a leader you don't just show up, you get involved and one of the best ways to do that is to help where help is needed. And Akil knew that."
Quotes and proverbs tacked to walls around the Sharperson household remind Akil of his goals and what it will take to reach them. The sign on the refrigerator says "We believe in you," a message Akil said encourages him when his workload is most difficult.
His typical school garb - a crisp polo shirt tucked into khakis belted at the waist, feet shod in plain brown loafers - remind him that he is a student above all else.
"He's just a model school citizen. The way he dresses, the way he carries himself in the hallways. He's a gentleman, a fine young man," athletics director Larry Kearse said.
"When you see him walking in the hallways, I wish all my athletes could give that impression that he gives. He's just been a wonderful representative for us."
FOCUSED IN CLASS AND ON THE FIELD
On the football field, Sharperson does not think about AP biology or homework.
Facing Lee Central at Memorial Stadium on Friday, Sharperson was 100 percent focused on football. His five tackles and one sack in the 39-12 win make him the team's sacks leader with six. His 42 tackles this season are second on the team.
Capitals coach Kemper Amick is not surprised by Sharperson's success.
"He has some natural talent, and he has developed into a tremendous player this year," Amick said, describing Sharperson as coachable, compliant and hardworking.
"What's made him a success is he just commits to whatever he's doing. If you're committed, you're going to work hard and do much better."
"From day one he's just been very focused and organized, as far as his schoolwork," Amick said.
Sharperson and his father said the coach always has encouraged Akil's academic pursuits, and balancing schoolwork and football at Columbia High has never been a struggle.
"To me, it's really physically draining when you have a lot of hard classes and you've got to get that work done and then you've got football. But Coach does a good job letting you get your schoolwork done, your academics right before you get out to practice," Akil said.
Naturally, Amick would like to see more of his players emulate Sharperson.
"He's in the best position of anybody we've ever had. He can pick a school," Amick said. "I tell every kid when they start, do not eliminate schools. No matter how good a player you are, if you don't have the grades, certain schools can't even talk to you."
Not so with Sharperson.
A member of the Duke University Talent Identification Program since the fourth grade, Sharperson's academic and athletic excellence has led to interest from colleges such as Duke, Princeton and Penn.
"I think it's a privilege to be able to go to schools like that, to possibly get a free education at colleges with the kind of resources and opportunities that they have," Sharperson said.
Amick hoped his other players have been inspired by that.
"Kids look up to him and I hope that they look at his success and want that for themselves," Amick said. "We talk about what he's doing and we want them to see him being successful."
Eighteen years ago, James Sharperson imagined all that his son could be.
Today, he cannot find no better words to describe the young man his son has become.
"He's an extraordinary person," James Sharperson said. "He's Akil."