Vongni Yang, The Union Democrat

Humphrey Quirie has experienced what most high school students never will during their lifetimes.

The Summerville Bear senior was born in a rural West Africa village of Peter Town, Liberia.

Liberia, during that time was in the midst of civil unrest, and Humphrey had to experience all that chaos firsthand.

"At night when we went to bed, you could hear AK-47s," Humphrey said. "You could hear stuff blowing up, and also during the day too. During the day, we would have rebels come into the towns."

Humphrey along with his younger brother, George, lived in an orphanage during the country's civil war, and both grew up never knowing their birth father.

But in 2006, Humphrey and George's lives changed forever.

The adoption process

Tuolumne County residents Curt and Lexie Quirie had always wanted to adopt, although the couple had three boys - Hunter, Paul and William - of their own.

The Quiries started researching, and found out early there were many forms of adoption: local, statewide, national and global.

But after learning about a group of African children from a news story, the Quiries settled on adopting someone overseas.

"We read an article and there were some kids in Liberia," Curt said. "A civil war was going on and families were being torn apart. We found a need right there."

The Quirie family linked up with an adoption agency on the east coast, and soon received information and photos about a young group of children in Liberia.

After a thorough background check, the Quiries were given the green-light to proceed with the process.

At first, the family made the decision to adopt just one - Humphrey - but when Curt flew out to the orphanage outside Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, he was told George was still available.

Initially, George was set to be adopted by a different family, but when it came time for him to be released, he refused to go, so he stayed behind at the orphanage.

Because Curt and Lexie didn't want to separate the brothers, and they were qualified for two children, they also adopted George.

"I'm very blessed to have been adopted," Humphrey said. "I couldn't have asked for a better family. They're very loving and caring."

Adjusting to life in America

When George and Humphrey arrived in the states in 2006, they had little to no schooling.

With the civil war ongoing, they did not have access to a public school system, so they spoke broken English in addition to their native tongue, Dasa.

"They left out consonants and vowels and whole words out of sentences," Curt said. "But that cleared out real fast."

Both were home schooled, and adjustment to life in America was a cultural shock.

The brothers had to get used to eating at a dinner table to changing their perspectives of perceived gender roles.

"It was a very big change," Humphrey said. "It was big and different. It was a different style of life. Cars everywhere. Streets everywhere. Stores. Back home, we didn't have any of that."

Humphrey was first home schooled with Cornerstone. After completing his courses there, he continued homeschooling with Gold Rush and would go on to graduate from Hickman.

"Humphrey caught up really fast," Curt said. "It was a challenge, but we got a lot of help through the home school network and it worked out that he could go to high school - a public school as a freshman."

The growth of Humphrey

Humphrey enrolled at Summerville High School in 2011 and signed up for the Bears junior varsity football team as a freshman.

For Humphrey, who grew up playing soccer, this was the first time in his life he strapped on the helmet and pads.

"Freshman year, I did well," Humphrey said. "The coaches liked me, and I liked the sport."

After football, Humphrey traded his helmet in for wrestling gear, and it was on the mat under the tutelage of Summerville coach Jordan DePaoli that he showed the early potential to be a force.

"I haven't coached a kid, and that includes football, that has the pure athleticism that Humphrey has," DePaoli said. "He has athleticism across the board. Any sport he took up, you knew he was going to do well. His strength to go along with his athleticism is something that you don't see in a lot of high school athletes."

But soon, as the fall season approached the following year, Humphrey started to ponder whether football was the right sport for him.

He wanted to give soccer a try, but since football and soccer were sponsored during the same season, Humphrey had to make a decision whether he was going to drop one sport for the other.

In the end, the 5-foot-5, 165-pound physical specimen chose football.

"Towards the end of his sophomore year, he really committed to football and knew it was for him," said Summerville head football coach Ben Watson. "Since then - football - he really, really enjoys football. He gets the most of every minute he's out there. He has a great attitude. He has a lot of fun and he's fun to be around."

As a junior, Humphrey earned second-team All-Mother Lode League honors at running back after rushing for 252 yards and three touchdowns as a key reserve.

He also received a bulk of playing time at inside linebacker and recorded over 60 tackles.

This summer, he set the Summerville all-time squat record after repping 640 pounds in Bears strength and conditioning coach Matt Soto's offseason program.

Humphrey was also one of three Bear football players, along with Darren Warnock and Jake Fulkerson, to join the 1,000-pound T-shirt Club for his exploits in the weight room.

"Last year - after the end of the season - he swore to me that he would be training with me and getting ready for his senior year, which he has," Soto said. "He's achieved his goal and then more. His total average weight was 1,500 pounds. He definitely achieved the 1,000-pound T-shirt and then some."

Humphrey is projected to be Summerville's starting running back and inside linebacker when the Bears open the 2014 season Friday against Denair at 7:30 p.m.

"I'm excited to see him out there this year," Soto said. "He's more explosive. He's more powerful."

On the wrestling mat, Humphrey went 34-13 as a junior, while winning the MLL's 152-pound tournament title, and was just one match shy of advancing to the state finals - he lost 1-0 to the eventual section champ.

In his three-year grappling career, Humphrey has collected 81 victories.

"He strives for excellence in all aspects of life," DePaoli said. "It's a testament to what he's experienced. He's overcome a lot of obstacles to achieve what he's done so far on the football field and wrestling mat."

Outside of his athletic prowess, the 17-year-old is involved in Associated Student Body and multiple clubs at Summerville. During his time away from school and sports, he works part-time at the Black Oak Casino's family room.

"He's assimilated very well, even though he's seen things that you and I would never want to see, and had to go through some terrible experiences," Curt said. "He's done well. That kid's got something special. That's for sure."