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Prep Zone: Squalicum football player rises from Haiti rubble to WSU scholarship

Squalicum High School senior Djouvensky Schlenbaker or "Ben" says his football career is just getting started.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Long before Squalicum High School senior Djouvensky Schlenbaker accepted a scholarship to play football for the Washington State Cougars, he was already a success story off the gridiron. 

As a sophomore at Squalicum, Schlenbaker rushed for over 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. Now a senior, Schlenbaker or "Ben" as his friends call him, is once again running away from the pack.

Ben also plays defense, but college coaches from across the country didn't come to Squalicum to watch him tackle, they wanted to see the all-state running back score touchdowns.

"I was running back since peewee football, even flag football. That's what I've always done, and it's been my favorite position since then," Ben said. 

But football wasn't his first sport. He grew up in Haiti and spent his early childhood playing soccer.

Ben loved the game, but he didn't love growing up in an orphanage. He and his sister Jenaka were placed there after their father died.

"Back in Haiti, it's a different lifestyle. We're trying to scavenge food, so like that's harder to grow up in," he said.

But Ben's fortunes would change when he met Kendra Schlenbaker from Bellingham.

"So, I went to Haiti first on a mission trip, so we weren't really going as a family yet ... I met Ben and was gravitated towards him because he was the littlest one there. The second trip I went down there, he was the length of a football field away from me, and I kind of looked down like, is that Ben Ben down there? And he heard his name, and he just came trucking. And we were pretty much inseparable that whole mission trip."

During a third trip, Kendra and her husband Brett decided they wanted to adopt Ben and his sister.

The adoption process can take time, but in 2010, the Schlenbakers couldn't wait any longer. On Jan. 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti. Over 100,000 people died. 

"I was young, so I don't remember everything that happened," Ben said. 

"We found out about the earthquake, that our children were alive, 24 hours later, because the earthquake hit right where the orphanage is," Kendra said. 

A week later, Brett boarded a plane on a true rescue mission. A few days after that, Brett and the kids were safely back home in western Washington.

Jenaka took to dancing, while Ben excelled at soccer and football.

"He arrived in Bellingham and the minute his feet hit the ground, it was kind of like, I'm home, here I am. And he's just been running from the minute he got here. He tells it now as he's older, I was handed this opportunity. I want to see how far I can take the opportunity," his mom said. 

"Being on a football field, it just feels like home. And just like, my heart starts racing, and it's like another love in my life," Ben said. And football loves him back, his speed and moves are elite. 

After he sings his final fight song with the Squalicum Storm, he'll be heading to Pullman to do it with the Cougars.

"It's amazing," his mom said. "It's fun to watch his dream come true, like he knew that we couldn't afford college. We have four kids, and there was no way we could afford a D1 level college for each kid, and he knew that a long time ago, from elementary school. So he told me, I'm going to play college football."

While his story from the rubble to the endzone is remarkable, Ben says he is just getting started.

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