FOX 32 NEWS - Getting into college is no easy feat, and working for scholarships just increases the challenge.
Surrounded by his family, Devonte Dunn is clearly a high school senior with his priorities straight.
“It's God, family, school and then football,” Dunn said.
Dunn has been a standout defensive tackle at Nazareth Academy in La Grange Park. Now, he's earned a full ride scholarship to play at the University of Toledo - a Division 1 school.
It’s the next step towards his lifelong dream.
“I told my parents I wanted to play in the NFL when I was 5 years old,” Dunn said.
While number 56 was a star on the field, Dunn struggled in the classroom.
“You can be a great athlete, you can be a great person, but without them grades you won't be anywhere,” Dunn said.
So Dunn hooked up with Beyond Sports, a foundation based in Highland Park that provides tutoring 5 days a week, athletic training and college prep classes.
They work with about 30 high school kids a year, targeting athletes from low income backgrounds with the goal of getting them into college with scholarships.
“When I tell them that it's free, they look at me and say that's not possible,” said Kim Michelson, Executive Director of Beyond Sports Foundation.
Michelson says they transform lives by turning athletic ability into life opportunity.
“We know sport will end, it's just a matter of time. But we use sport as that vehicle to get to other parts of their life,” Michelson said.
“I play football, I wrestle, I throw shot put, and I dabble with water polo,” said Solomon Smith.
Sport is obviously key to Smith. He was a top wrestler in the state at De La Salle Institute. Beyond Sports helped him get into the University of Great Falls in Montana.
“It's given me a launching pad that other people don't have,” Smith said.
Smith and Dunn are among five student athletes who just graduated from Beyond Sports. They say they're like a family now and that this program has made them all better people, helping them beyond school, beyond scholarships and beyond sports.
“I don't know what I would have been away from it, but I know what I am with it and I appreciate that, that's love! Wooooo!” Smith said while laughing.
Beyond Sports has a high school graduation rate of 100 percent and a college graduation rate of 88 percent. They continue to work with the student-athletes once they go to college.