DALLAS – Lesson learned. To succeed on the football field, one must first succeed in the classroom.

Tristan Garcia came here from Somerville, NJ, one of 60 elite young athletes hoping to showcase his skills in a national bowl game.

But he and the other players are also learning about the importance of balancing athletics with academics.

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The sixth-grader at Somerville Middle School is one of 60 players selected from a field of 30,000 nationwide to compete in the Bret Cooper Junior Academic All-American Bowl Game Jan. 2.

The game is considered the top bowl game in the nation for young players, who are selected to participate based on academics and character as well as skill on the football field.

Tristan, 12, is a member of the Somerville Branchburg United Bulldogs and has played on the team three years.

Since arriving here, the young players have spent nearly as many hours in team meetings as they have practiced on the field.

Tristan, a wide receiver, is already learning that it’s not enough to just have good hands if he wants to attend college and play Division I football.

To be on the field, he must excel off the field – in the classroom.

That point was driven home during Wednesday’s team meeting where the coaches talked about academics.

The NCAA, the governing body for college athletics, requires a student athlete to maintain a 2.4 Grade Point Average (GPA) to qualify for a scholarship offer and to compete on the field. Anything below that disqualifies the player from putting on the uniform and competing.

“I never heard that before,” Tristan said afterwards.

His mother, Brionna Castillo said she and her son have been impressed by the emphasis on academics.

"He has his notebook and he’s been taking all kinds of notes at the team meetings on what it takes to qualify for an NCAA scholarship,” she said. "Now, he’s like ‘Oh, gosh, I have to go home and really work at litte bit harder.’

“You can’t wait until ninth grade to get after all your maths, sciences, social sciences and English,” she added. “He’s been working harder and all his grades are going up.”

Wednesday night the young athletes and their parents were guests at a Hawaiian luau. There will be a short practice Thursday morning before everyone heads to the New Year’s Eve Cotton Bowl where the Alabama Crimson Tide will play the Michigan State Spartans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

“He’s happy to be here, happy to be meeting people from all over and excited about playing; he really, really appreciates the opportunity,” Castillo said.