WAXAHACHIE — It's 5 a.m. Monday and 17-year-old Robert Nava rolls over to slam his man-sized palm on the snooze button of his alarm. The voice of his mother Tiffany Nava, too, breaks through the corners of his bedroom door and a momentary silence.
"No breaks. I gotta get to college," the Waxahachie junior says to himself while sliding out of bed when most high-school-age children clutch down feather pillows and search for more sleep.
By nightfall, Robert will complete a three-hour a day schedule of regimented schoolwork, another hour from his hired math tutor, two- to three-hour practices with Dallas Christian Home Educators Spartan football team or a full day of face-to-face math and science labs and ACT and college prep courses.
Before opening a book or picking up a standard No. 2 pencil, though, he rises every morning to train alone at Chapman or Getzendanner Park.
The NCAA Division II or Division III hopeful runs miles, routes and hills and do nearly every improvement drill he can find on the internet or Youtube during the solitary training session. They are the similar drills Head Coach Jon Kitna and his Indians do during 2-a-day practices in the 100-degree Texas heat without the head coach and 60 other boys.
"That's not anyone telling him to do so. He'll go by himself or bring his brother or sister with him to throw him passes. He is very self-motivated," Tiffany said.
It's something he's done since he was a freshman and before the Down Under Football League invited him to its 29th annual Down Under Bowl Championships on June 3 in Gold Coast, Australia.
He will join one of four teams divided into two brackets, with each team playing two games according to high school federation rules. One referee will be flown from the United States and the other officials supplied by Queensland Gridiron Officials Association.
The fruits of Robert's labor, though, won't be seen on the turf of Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium or in classic Indians' kelly green. Neither is the top 30 private school talent he brings to Texas' table.
The Nava family decided to continue enrolling their children in homeschool through the Duncanville-based DasCHE after complications arose with entering Robert at WHS his sophomore year.
"My husband and I graduated from there," Tiffany said. "He went to North Side Elementary School through fifth grade and after that, we decided to homeschool our four children for a myriad of reasons. We actually went to enroll him during his sophomore year so he could be a part of the program because we knew and trusted a lot of the coaches because we went to school with them. Because he homeschooled, though, his credits wouldn't transfer. They told us he would have to test in [to his grade] but took that back and told us he couldn't test in and said if he wanted to come in he'd have to start as a freshman."
The Navas took it as a sign that the traditional school route wasn't the path they were supposed to be on and returned Robert to his homeschool regimen.
DasChe, because of its co-op nature, invites homeschoolers from all areas of North Dallas regardless of whether they are involved in the DasCHE educational system. That diversity has paid dividends.
Last season, the Spartans earned a berth in and won the National Tournament in Florida with Robert as the team's quarterback.
The 5-foot-11 and 192-pound safety that carved an unorthodox path to semi-stardom as the No. 27 private-school safety in the state will be one of less than 100 American football invited to make the trip to Australia and gain exposure on the national and international stage.
His coach Sam Rayburn, a four-year National Football League vet that played with Miami, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, has helped him
Held on Australia's Gold Coast, hundreds of high school American football players, coaches, cheerleaders and officials, as well as athletes from Australia and New Zealand also send teams to compete in the competition, have participated in the event since its inception in 1988. It the largest American football championship tournament held outside the United States.
Of the $11,500 Robert needed to pay for airfare, travel and housing during the bowl, his parents raised $7,000.
"When we made the commitment at the end of January to do this because we knew how much it means to his future, we arranged sponsorships, ran fundraisers and took donations," Tiffany said. "It was anything we could do to help our son realize a dream he's worked so hard for. When you see your child wake up and put so much effort into something it's all you can do."
The price Tiffany and her husband pay to keep their son educated and in the homeschool league isn't cheap. Whether it's $500 or more to play football and purchase equipment, more than $1,200 for school and co-op class or $150, on average, per each curriculum set, the cost isn't steep enough to deter them or Robert from collegiate dreams.
According to the organization's website, DasChe consists of approximately 300 families currently homeschooling children or supporting the homeschooling effort. Through its athletics co-op program, children between grades 8-12 can play baseball, basketball, football, golf, soccer and tennis and can participate in other outside extracurricular activities like cross country and track and field.
Robert has played and excelled in all of them — including BMX, Motorcross and select baseball — except basketball, golf and tennis.
"I just couldn't get into golf. Not my thing," Robert said while laughing and leaning back in a small black office chair. "I don't know what it was about football that made me fall in love with it. Maybe it was the contact or the speed of the game. I loved soccer — with all my heart — until I found [the sport of] football. I've played it ever since."
He leaned back in the chair, adjusted his black Nike visor and straightened his black spiky hair. After whispering something to Tiffany and pointing to the red, white and blue flyer on the table, he rocked back in the chair enough for the words on his maroon shirt to become visible.
They said "Harvard Football."
One of the two words is his driving force of his life on the gridiron. The other would be a bonus of the hours he toils in the classroom. The Nava family, complete with Robert's homeschooled siblings Autumn and Tatum aren't the only ones to take buck the public school trend.
Per an International Social Science Review study, the number of home-educated students in America in 2012 was estimated between 1.7 million and 2.3 million and over the last two decades. Home education also grew consistently at a rate of seven percent to percent during the 20-year span.
And like many in the national homeschool system, he has something to prove to those that believe it's an inferior education or experience — as well as to his great-grandmother.
"If I had the chance to go to WHS, I would. It would be a lot easier getting into college football that way, but no matter what it takes, I'll keep my promise," Robert said. "There's a lot of people in the [Waxahachie High School] that think that because of where we go, that we won't have the same opportunities. I've gotten messages from a certain someone I used to be friends with that said I wouldn't be able to play college football or make it to college because I'm a homeschool kid. Making it to college would prove a lot of people wrong. I promised my grandma that I would play college football before she died, too."
He stopped, paused and blinked hard, presumably pushing back tears that were threatening to burst from the corners of his eyes. Despite being separated from her during the last years of her life because of undisclosed reasons, she was a focal part of Autumn, Robert and Tatum's lives.
"That pushes me further," Robert continued. "It doesn't matter how I get there, regardless if its scholarship or walk on, I'm going — offer or not."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.