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Freeport student overcame early struggles and wins $20,000 college scholarship

Erin Mulvane, Houston Chronicle
Published 5:22 pm, Tuesday, April 23, 2013
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When Luis Mata's family first moved to the United States from Mexico, he said the only English word he knew was "banana."

Now, the 18-year-old from Freeport, who overcame bullying and a significant language barrier during his elementary school years, will be the first member of his family to graduate from high school and go to college.

To help pay for Texas A&M University, where he will study civil engineering in the fall, he has won a $20,000 scholarship from Foot Locker Athletes Program, which partners with DoSomething.org. He was one of 20 high school athletes to receive the scholarship.

Mata, a senior at Brazosport High School, is on the cross country and soccer teams and is ranked 10th in his class. He took dual credit courses at Brazosport College and will also graduate with an associate's degree this May.

"Luis has shown us not only that it takes discipline and determination to participate in an organized sport, but that it takes even more strength to be committed to challenging the status quo off the field," said Nancy Lublin, CEO & chief at DoSomething.org. "These young athletes deserve the chance to continue to be successful and strive for bigger opportunities."

Mata's family moved to a town near Corpus Christi when he was 10 years old. He said he was enrolled in all English classes and he flunked every class, even though he had excelled in his schools in Mexico.

"I had no clue what I was doing," he said. "I think I was kind of an outcast."

A few years later, when he was in the seventh grade, his family moved to Freeport. He said he, his mother and two sisters were in a bad car accident when he was a freshman in high school. He said the incident motivated him to push himself and make the most out of his life.

Not only did he play sports, but he also joined many clubs, including the Peer Assistance Leadership Program. In that program, he is able to help elementary students, like himself, that need a little extra help or mentoring. He also leads the Technology Student Association, where his construction and architecture projects won local and statewide awards.

He said he chose civil engineerng because he was inspired by his father, who is a carpenter. He credits his mother, who is a full-time mom, for her drive, perseverance and selflessness that inspired him to get him through all the trying times he has experienced, he said.

When Mata was told he won the scholarship, he said he "almost had a heart attack."

"The only income I have from my parents comes from my dad," he said. "I've been trying to get around with scholarships and financial aid, so that I have fewer loans."