VAUGHT: 1-on-1 with Chris Taverez

For Chris Tavarez of Westlake High School in Atlanta, that's only part of the career equation he must balance since he's also a promising actor with a lead role in a new Disney movie, "Avalon High," that will be released on the Disney Channel in November.

For most high school seniors, having multiple Division I football scholarship offers would be enough of a dilemma.

For Chris Tavarez of Westlake High School in Atlanta, that's only part of the career equation he must balance since he's also a promising actor with a lead role in a new Disney movie, "Avalon High," that will be released on the Disney Channel in November. He spent most of the spring when college football coaches were evaluating talent in New Zealand filming the movie.

The 5-11, 193-pound Tavarez has scholarship offers and interest from schools such as Duke, Maryland, Kentucky, Harvard, Tulane, Princeton, Connecticut, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon. He played outside linebacker last year, but he viewed as a fast, physical safety by college coaches.

"Acting and football are both important to me," said Tavarez, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds but hopes to lower that time this season. "As of now, going to college as a Division I football player is my priority. But while I am playing, I will keep acting and see what is out there.

"Getting a Division I football scholarship is my priority. Football is my first love. I will keep acting and see what happens, but I am a football player. I have always played football. I can't remember exactly when I started, but it was when I was a small kid. My dad threw me out there. I was always a playful kid, but I fell in love with football."

Originally, he played tight end and then he was moved to running back. Eventually he got to try defense. "I just knew I could hit. I started off at linebacker and was a big, chubby kid. I slowly started to work my way to safety because I worked on my speed and agility. In high school, I play linebacker and safety," Tavarez said.

With his family's Dominican background, he almost had to try baseball. "My dad wanted me to try, but we could see that was not my sport," Tavarez said.

Instead, football was.

"I love to hit. I don't know what it is. When I see a ballcarrier, I feel almost animalistic. I feel like a lion or cheetah hunting down prey. My goal is to stop the runner dead in his tracks wherever he is. Usually I can make a big play for force a fumble," Tavarez, who rates Pittsburgh linebacker Troy Polamalu as his favorite player because of his combination of intensity and composure, said.

He puts that "animalistic instinct" behind him when he's acting. He was on a reality show called "Endurance" when he was 12 years old and other contestants were 15 or 16.

"I was the youngest on the show and actually won a mission," Tavarez said. "I was just watching TBS (an Atlanta-based cable station) one day and saw they were auditioning for kids to be on the show. It was the craziest time of my life. The show was shot in the mountains of California. My mom went with me, but I was not allowed to see anyone in the month and a half it took to shoot the show.

"I won a mission to pick all the team members. When they saw a 12-year-old kid win that, I was eliminated the next week because they knew I was a threat. But I learned so much from that experience."

He also had three lines at the beginning of the movie, "Big Mommas House 2." He was on TBS sitcom, "Meet the Browns," for an episode and played the main girl's boyfriend.

"That showed I was serious and not a kid just trying to play around," Tavarez, who also did TV commercials for Crest and Colgate, said. "I had actually started modeling when I was 5. My mom thought I was handsome and that led to acting. I love dressing for parts and playing different characters."

He did not tell casting directors he was a football player when he auditioned for the Disney film. When he was asked if he knew anything about football, he knew he probably had the part.

"I play a receiver in the movie and me and quarterback are best friends," Tavarez said. "But I also have a little crush on his girlfriend. We have all been friends since first grade. I have a relationship with his girlfriend. Others notice and he finds out. Stuff gets crazy, but you will have to watch to see how it ends. However, it's a very realistic movie about how best friends go through life trying to win a state title for their town and then have to deal with the boyfriend-girlfriend drama.

Tavarez doesn't want drama with his football career. His school annually produces five to 10 Division I player and has former players in the NFL. Former teammate Eric Simmons is a freshman cornerback at Kentucky.

"He literally runs a 4.29 40. He is the best kid Georgia has seen," Tavarez said. "Coach (Joker) Phillips came down to check him out and then called me to the office. He said he knew I played linebacker, but he could see me as a huge college safety. He was all over me and asked for my highlight tape."

He got a call from UK assistant coach Tee Martin and then came the scholarship offer that he insists he'll strongly consider.

"Eric talks so highly of Kentucky. He talks so good about the coaches that it makes me want to go and check Kentucky out," Tavarez said. "He said it feels like a home away from home. The dorms are huge. He said the stadium is like a cathedral. He talks a lot about the great environment with students and fans.

"It is a definite plus when you have someone you played with and created a bond with at a school. It would be cool to have at least one person you already know well at the place you go."

He likes Phillips.

"I love how he talked," Tavarez said. "He's not one of those up-tight coaches. He hugs you and rubs your shoulders. He dives straight into it with you. He doesn't cross his legs and stare you down. He came off as real, kind of like a father figure. He's stern and serious, but he can still pull you to the side and talk real to you. He will give you one on one time. It's a great vibe I got from him

"All I hear are good things about Kentucky. I love schools that excel in sports other than football. When you say basketball, Kentucky is the first or second word out of your mouth, or should be. Kentucky has a lot going academic-wise and sports-wise that I like."

While potential playing time will be a factor in his college choice, he says academics are important. He plans to be a sports journalism major.

"My parents taught me never to put all my eggs in one basket," he said. "That's why I was into modeling and acting. I want to be a sports journalist. I am not just looking for a football school. Football is a dangerous sport. I could break my leg tomorrow.

"When I was younger I hated acting and modeling. I hated memorizing lines. I hated auditions. Sometimes I would have to miss practice because of photo shoots and I would lie to my friends so they would not know why I missed. But it has all turned out well."

He plans to visit several schools this summer, but he's saving a visit to Kentucky during a bye week during his high school season.

"I don't have a top five or a No. 1. I want to take my visits. I will rely on those. I am a very visual person. I want to see the campus life, student life, how coaches treat players in person. I just want a place that feels like home and that place could easily be Kentucky," he said.

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