Centennial High School football player Tony Servin has seen his fair share of tragedy at the young age of 17.
While he was in the seventh, eighth, 10th and 11th grades, he lost friends to suicide.
“I’ve lost friends over the years to suicide,” the offensive lineman said. “In the eighth grade, I couldn’t handle it. I had to go to counseling. I had to talk to my parents. People can go to school and act like normal people, but you never know if they’re hurting on the inside.
“With one of my friends, we literally talked about going to eat that day.”
This September, Teen Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Servin is one of 15 players from 12 schools who are starring in public service announcements designed to provide a unified message to teens who may be struggling with depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide.
The PSAs are collaborations between Teen Lifeline and the Grand Canyon State Gridiron Club.
Teen Lifeline is an Arizona-based nonprofit with a focus on giving teens a safe space to talk about their depression and anxiety. Lifeline Clinical Director Nikki Kontz hopes these videos will have a significant impact on the students who watch them.
“Our high school football players are seen as the heroes or seen as the people that bad things don’t happen to,” Kontz said. “The fact is they’re struggling with the same things that every other kid is, and this is a way for them to bring awareness to everyone.”
Teen Lifeline received nearly 35,000 calls and texts to its suicide prevention hotline in 2020, with the majority coming from Arizona adolescents ages 10 to 19.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the 30-year-old Teen Lifeline has received the most number of calls and texts from teens.
“We can see it (awareness) even on the national and international stage, the things that have occurred in these last four months with Olympians like Simone Biles talking about the importance of mental health,” Kontz said.
Participating players will be recognized during their games in September. Members of the cheer team and spirit squads will wear custom Lifeline ribbons in their hair, and coaches will sport green suicide prevention shirts.
“It has been an amazing partnership every year. To see the numbers that we’re getting on social media and how many people it’s reaching within each of the schools has been something special,” Kontz said.
The 263 Arizona middle and high schools have printed the Teen Lifeline phone number on the back of their student IDs. For more information, visit teenlifeline.org. For help, call or text Teen Lifeline at 602-248-TEEN (8336) or 1-800-248-TEEN.
Servin has faced his fair share of adversity.
Nicknamed “Tank,” Servin broke his leg during a game, when he was playing for Caesar Chavez High School. He was told he wouldn’t play football again.
“I ended up coming back. I started training again, transferred to Sierra Linda, only to find out the season was canceled due to COVID,” Servin said. “That brought me down a lot. That’s when I made the move to Centennial, which has one of the best football programs.”
Servin’s talents have garnered him scholarship offers from several colleges, including UA, Arizona Christian, University of Wisconsin River Falls and Concordia University. He was chosen to play in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl in December.
When Servin filmed his PSA, he met players in other football programs, which he said was fun. He was the only Centennial student recruited for the PSAs.
“There were kids I had heard about but hadn’t met,” he said. “It was interesting to hear how different our programs are, and how they are the same.”
Kontz said football players were chosen for the project because they were looked up to by their peers.
“Football players are considered in an elite group and, oftentimes, people think they don’t have any problems,” she said. “People don’t view them as having problems like the rest of the population. The reality is they do. I think it’s become more and more evident over the last year with Simone Biles and Michael Phelps that mental health among our elite athletes is a relevant topic.
“It’s important for athletes to come forward for one another and show everyone else that they’re not alone. They’re human and struggling with the same things.”
The PSAs are available on Twitter @gcs_gridiron.