NEW PORT RICHEY — The clean-cut teen with a swimmer's build didn't plan to say a word.
But after hearing his teachers talk about how he changed his own life, he couldn't help himself.
He took a deep breath, braced the lecturn with his hands and dove in.
"My name is Trever Marsha. I'm 17 years old. And I've seen quite a bit for my age," he told the audience that had gathered for Pasco County's annual student turnaround award ceremony.
He has watched kids overdose. Attended the funeral of his best friend.
Lost all contact with his father. Given up on any chance of success at Zephyrhills High.
"Drinking Saturday night was my life," Trever recalled. "I had a lot of people let me down, friends I thought were friends."
After two years of high school, he had received more suspensions (12) than credits (three). Assistant principal Kathy Leeper came to one conclusion: The school had nothing left to offer Trever.
It was time to go elsewhere.
"After the school told me I was not allowed to come back, I knew I had to change," Trever said in an interview.
He made new friends, in particular Richard Seufzer, who encouraged him to buckle down in his studies and join the swimming team, even though he was academically ineligible to compete.
Richard, who died recently in a plane crash, "kept pushing me, as well as my family," Trever said. "I now have a lot of hope."
This year, Trever earned enough credits to get back on track toward graduating on time, improving his near zero grade-point average to above 2.0.
"He's got great drive and great personality," graduation coach Shannon Mathews said. "We have every course laid out to graduation next year, and he's maintained A's and B's in all of them."
As he told his tale, the room filled with sniffles and tears. Trever was the last of 30 students honored Wednesday for having changed their lives for the better.
They were the indifferent, the surly, the class clowns. They were the ones with loads of referrals to the office, the ones you wouldn't want your kid to be friends with.
Yet there they stood, beaming with pride and filled with thanks for the parents and teachers who helped them find a path to success.
River Ridge High senior Brandon Price, expelled a year ago for fighting with a teacher, couldn't take his eyes off his plaque. His grin dominated his face.
"Kids would get these. I never thought I was going to get one," he said to the crowd. He thanked the adults in his life. "They helped me more than anything. They should get an award."
"They actually cared," said Pine View Middle eighth-grader Josh Reyes, who had the help of a school resource officer to turn his path around.
Tonya Lunge, Trever's mom, agreed that the teachers offered "excellent support" to get her son on the right path. She acknowledged it wasn't always easy, being a single mom who was working full time and going to school herself.
"I'm proud of my son. He's done very well," Lunge said. "He works hard."
His teachers made sure of it.
"We gave Trever the hardest teachers and the most difficult classes," said Leeper, the assistant principal. "He not only passed those classes but aced those classes. We knew he could rise to the challenge."
It was easier than you might think, Trever said.
"They had faith in me. I took it," he said. "It was a breeze. It's not hard to be successful. It's only hard if you let it be."
Trever plans to graduate on time from Zephyrhills High next year. He's already taking courses on his way to becoming a paramedic and firefighter.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.