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Johnny Sen: He wasn’t going to finish his senior year, but his friends stepped in

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As the summer of 2020 slipped toward fall, Sierra Vista High senior Johnny Sen had all but given up on the idea of finishing school. Hobbled from a severe knee injury suffered his junior year, the starting defensive end didn’t think he’d be ready to play another season of varsity football. “I didn’t see having a senior year,” he said.

Meanwhile, his mother was hospitalized with COVID-like symptoms. She succumbed in December after a few weeks in a coma. “Her lungs gave out, her heart gave out.” Battling cancer, “she didn’t have the energy to fight anymore,” Johnny said. “I was at my grandma’s house, crashing on her couch. I got a call that my mom in the hospital, she’s not going to make it. We’ve got to say our final goodbyes. I had to leave at 3 a.m., go over to the hospital.”

Johnny Sen looks on from the sideline during his last game with the Sierra Vista High Dons.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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Instead of continuing with his plan to quit, Johnny committed to his rehab and attended virtual classes. Football season would be delayed until next spring, offering him a chance to finish healing and play the game he loved. “Before the season hit, I wasn’t doing any work, I was failing. It was pretty bad for me,” he said. He credits a tight group of friends who helped him weather all that was happening. “We’re very close, he said. “They were there for me when my mom was in the hospital.”

Cesar Martinez and Johnny Sen celebrate a win over Cerritos High.

Cesar Martinez, No. 55, and Johnny Sen, No. 10, celebrate a win over Cerritos High. The Sierra Vista seniors managed to play four games after the COVID-19 pandemic compelled the school district to offer a short slate of games in the spring.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Johnny lives with his two sisters, brother, sister-in-law and their baby and his grandmother who is recovering from COVID. “My grandma is really sick. She was in the hospital with COVID. She’s back now, but she’s slowing down,” he said. “It’s like a whole family thing. The whole family’s over, we’re all helping our grandma.”

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Loud cheers and hoots ring out as Johnny Saren Sen carries his diploma off the stage located on the football field that brought him great joy. His smile and proud gait are a sign that he’s leaving a tough year behind.

Johnny Sen and fellow members of the Sierra Vista High Class of 2021 at prom on campus.

Johnny Sen and fellow members of the Sierra Vista High Class of 2021 at prom on campus. The seniors finished a most unusual year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only a few attended classes on campus the last few weeks of the school year.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Sierra Vista High senior Johnny Sen dances at the on-campus prom.

Sierra Vista High senior Johnny Sen dances at the on-campus prom.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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