EAST LAKE — Mason Cole sat near the front of his honors geometry class this week. He listened intensely as his teacher, Ernest Meredith, took the class through the previous night's homework.
On that same day, Artavis Scott sat at the front of his biology class completing a worksheet that focused on finding the "constant" and the "variables."
High school is new for Cole and Scott. Last year, they were middle-schoolers and at the top of their class. This year, the two are East Lake High freshmen having to learn new faces, new expectations and a sprawling high school campus.
But that's just where the learning curve starts for them. Cole, 14, and Scott, 15, also are starters on East Lake's varsity football team.
"In middle school, they are kids," said Ruth Riel, East Lake's assistant principal of activities. "They get to high school, they have more stringent rules. They have attendance, they have credits, graduation requirements and dress code issues.
"They have some new things they have to deal with. It's a different ball game when they get to high school."
While their athletic abilities have garnered them spots on varsity, it's the nuance and the rhythm of high school that is just as much a focus.
"It's a lot of pressure," said Scott, a wide receiver who scored the team's first touchdown of the season with a 30-yard reception last week. "I'm trying to stay up on my school work and I try to not fall behind. The coach wants me to play, and I can't show my skills on Friday nights if I don't do well in my classes."
Cole, who attended Carwise Middle School last year, agreed that there is pressure being a freshman and a starting varsity football player. And while the school work is challenging, he's confident that he will succeed in the classroom.
But the 6-3, 215-pound youngster's stomach tangled in knots when he was told that he was being pulled up to varsity.
"I was nervous and didn't know what to think," said Cole, a left tackle. "I'm just as big as most of the guys, but there's a whole other step. They are so much faster, stronger and quicker than youth ball."
Last season, Cole played offensive and defensive lineman in an East Lake youth league. Scott played whatever position he wanted for the Oldsmar Falcons.
"If I saw a position I wanted to try, I could play it," Scott said. "I'm not used to there being competition for the positions. But it's making me better because if I slack off, I can be on the bench watching the game."
Bob Hudson, East Lake's head coach, said that "football-wise and nonfootball-wise, it's tough" for Cole and Scott. Physically and athletically, moving from youth football to varsity football is a big jump, he said.
"I told them both that they have to stay level-headed over these two years and continue to work hard," Hudson said. "We have to make sure the foundation is being set for them right now.
"It's tough. In school, they have to hang with kids their same age, but at practice they are dealing with guys older than them and they have to be pretty mature kids to handle that."
When Cole and Scott step on the field at 7:30 p.m. today to face Largo High School, their focus is clear. It's to help score touchdowns. But as they face the high school experience, they both know it will be a continuous process of learning new faces, new teachers and loads of homework.
"My brother graduated from East Lake last year, so I thought I was going to know a lot of people," Cole said. "But there are many more people than you think. And you get up early to be at school at 7:05 a.m., then there's football practice and by the time I get home, I have three pages of homework. It's a long day."
In high school, Scott said, accountability is on his shoulders.
"The teachers, they make you responsible," he said. "There are no questions asked, no excuses. If the assignment is due that day, it's due that day. So, you have step up your game, even though you are a freshman."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.