On a shelf in John Palyok's West Los Angeles home sits an old Gatorade bottle filled with dirt.
It isn't there for ambiance. It's there to remind Palyok who he is and from where he came.
The 1991 Hobart graduate and a starting offensive guard on the '89 state championship football team scooped the dirt from the Dust Bowl, the practice 'field' above the famed Brickie Bowl where legendary coach Don Howell and his staff forged boys into young men.
"Whatever I do in life, it's because of what was done for me," Palyok said. "They definitely molded me into who am and what I've become, telling me to not ever give up, that if you set your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. The discipline at Hobart, it was always in the water, the culture the coaching created, There's definitely an emotional attachment. It's something I'll never forget."
On the rare occasion Palyok has a chance to come home, without fail, he stops by the old hallowed grounds and just stares.
"It gives me goosebumps, chills, thinking about it," he said. "The blood, sweat, tears, the battles, those are memories of a lifetime."
Palyok can almost hear the thunderous post-game chant: All my life, I wanna be a Brickie, work, work, work! The once-scrawny kid who got picked on at the bus stop sat in the stands with his dad, dreaming of wearing the gold helmet some day like his heroes on the field.
"Somebody saw something in me," Palyok said. "I remember Coach (Tom) Kerr and Coach Howell telling me, 'You're going to eat vanilla ice cream and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before bed,' and I said, 'Yes, sir.' (Track) Coach (Jim) Johnston was my Mr. Miyogi. I remember my dad saying, 'He's got you splitting logs and I can't get you to rake leaves in the front yard.'"
The Brickies won state Palyok's junior season. He and current coach Ryan Turley were captains in 1990, when Hobart was runner-up, losing to Franklin Central. Palyok bulked up to 250 pounds as a sophomore at Valparaiso University. His senior year, the Crusaders went 7-3, knocking off Turley's previously-unbeaten Butler team. The life-long friends remain in touch, though Palyok has rebuffed requests to join Turley on the sidelines.
Palyok graduated from Valpo with a sports management degree in '95 and earned his master's in business administration in '97. He moved to the west coast, expecting to carve a niche in the growing dot-com industry when his course took a sharp turn.
While establishing a new life in the City of Angels, Palyok was approached at a bar about appearing on Survivor.
"I thought it was a joke," he said.
Ironically, Palyok had sent in a tape to the show, only to not hear back. He was a contestant on Survivor Vanuatu in 2006. Buff and handsome, Palyok certainly fit the part. He went without water for a week, losing 26 pounds before being voted off by "five old, fat guys."
"It was an absolutely amazing experience," Palyok said. "I had the ability to fish, build shelter, start a fire, but on the show, I was the guy everybody backstabbed. I found out the more you opened your mouth, the faster you get kicked off."
What kept Palyok going then and always were his Brickies roots, the constant urging to keep pushing.
In 2005, he took a job at Best Buy. Two years later, he became manager at the third-largest store on the coast.
"'JP's work ethic on the football field has certainly transferred to his role as Best Buy general manager," Best Buy spokesman Jon Sandler said. "He is always in motion — leading, managing ... and serving our customers."
For Palyok, life has come full circle in a sense. Impacted in his formative years, he is now doing the same as a coach of sorts for a staff of 130.
"What Hobart has done for me, I parlayed into a career," he said. "To see others show up and work hard to succeed, it's rewarding. It's like that kid looking up to the player. I'm just wearing a lighter shade of blue now."