In a town like Hilmar, where football means more than most things, Isaac Sharp is at home.
Sharp, a junior at Hilmar High and the Yellowjackets’ starting running back, has recently become somewhat of a local star after helping his team make an improbable Sac Joaquin Section Division VI Championship run with a combined 654 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns over a three-game stretch – an outcome that was unthinkable after Hilmar finished the regular season with a 5-5 record.
But beating the odds is nothing new for Sharp, who has shown an ability to adapt in the face of adversity throughout his life.
Long before he was taking handoffs and rushing for hundreds of yards, Sharp was more than 3,000 miles away in the third-world country of Haiti, living the life of an orphan. Born on April 1, 2000, as Isaac Joineus; Sharp’s birth mother died of unknown causes when he was two years old. After living with his grandmother for a short time while his father searched for work and a way to support the family, Sharp ended up at the Maison des Enfants de Dieu orphanage in Port-au-Prince — one of many Haitian orphans whose family members could not afford to care for them.
“When I was younger I used to get sad and I would cry. I was adopted and I was put in an orphanage and I was like, ‘Why did they put me in an orphanage? Why didn’t they want me?’ But as you get older you sort of mature a little bit and you start to see the bigger picture,” Sharp said. “I think they’d be really happy now with the life they gave me.”
The path to the life Sharp now lives began in 2004 when the four and a half year old was adopted by Ron and Darilyn Sharp, a married couple who had helped establish the Maison des Enfantes de Dieu orphanage.
“Isaac was one of the first kids at the orphanage,” Darilyn said. “The parents want their kids to have better lives … we wanted to help a child.”
Before long Sharp was on his way to a new home, the town of Delhi, to join his new family which consisted of Ron and Darilyn and their biological children Riley and Adam. Faced with a new life in an unfamiliar part of the world, Sharp was forced to adapt and evolve.
“I had to learn English, I had to learn how to be an American with the cultural standards and everything,” Sharp said.
According to Darilyn, however, the transition didn’t take long. Within a year her newly adopted son was already taking to the cultural norms of his new home and showing flashes of the person he would become.
“I have video footage of him kicking around a soccer ball and constantly saying, ‘Watch me! Watch me!’” Darilyn said. “He was always drawn to athletics.”
Sharp ditched the soccer ball and discovered his passion for American football at the age of 9, when he joined the Delhi Raiders Youth Football team and quickly became a playmaker.
“You can definitely ask my parents, football is very important to me,” Sharp said. “I remember one time they were telling me we might go to Disneyland and I was asking them if that was during football, because if it is you guys can go and I’m going to stay at a friend’s house or something.
“I don’t know where the love came from, but I love the rush of it. I love the excitement. I can’t get enough of it,” he added.
By 8th grade, Sharp was playing youth football for the Hilmar Packers — a move that again forced him to adapt as he was no longer a big fish in a small pond.
“I went to Hilmar and I wasn’t the best one there anymore,” Sharp said.
Accustomed to scoring touchdown after touchdown in Delhi, Sharp was relegated to defensive and special teams play at Hilmar. It wasn’t until the final game of his high school JV season in a matchup against Ripon High that Sharp showed shades of his potential when he rushed for 254 yards and five touchdowns on nine carries.
The performance set up high expectations for both himself and his team as they entered the 2017 season.
“We wanted to win league and we wanted an opportunity to win sections,” Sharp said.
Unfortunately for Hilmar, however, the season did not go as planned. The Yellowjackets won their first two games, lost the next two and then proceeded to alternate between wins and losses each week until the season was over, leaving them with a 2-3 record in the Trans Valley League.
For Sharp, the lowlight of the disappointing regular season came on Oct. 20 in a game against Modesto Christian High that saw him commit four fumbles in the 41-13 loss.
“Honestly, I’m going to be real with you, it was really depressing,” Sharp said.
But just one day after the final game of the season, Sharp and his team were treated to a surprise of monumental proportions. Despite their 2-3 league record and their overall record of 5-5, the Yellowjackets managed to earn a playoff berth.
“I was laying in my bed and I was kind of depressed for the whole day, I was just sleeping. But I finally wake up, I’m opening my phone, and then all I see on my phone is ‘We’re in. We’re in, we’re in, we’re in!’ There was a new energy that popped up,” Sharp said. “We have another opportunity to show what we can do.”
Hilmar entered the SJS DVI Tournament as the sixth seed in an eight-team bracket and did just that, upsetting Summerville High 47-3 in the first round before edging league rival Escalon High 41-38 in the semifinal to set up a championship match up with a familiar team — Modesto Christian.
Although they had wilted under the pressure of the Crusaders in October, Hilmar proved it was an entirely different team in November. Rushing for 200 yards in the first half alone and scoring two touchdowns on runs of 79 yards and 62 yards, Sharp led the Yellowjackets to a stunning 42-13 win over Modesto Christian for the program’s first section title since 2011.
“I lost my confidence in that first game. So to be able to play that good against MC again, it was a huge confidence booster for me,” Sharp said. “I was not good during league. I was OK, but we finally got that connection, that light, when we got to the postseason.
“A lot of it was just character. You lose with character and you win with character. We believed in ourselves, we got in, and we showed people what we can do,” he added.
In a lot of way Sharp’s leadership during Hilmar’s championship run is indicative of the hardships he’s overcome in his personal life and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
“A lot of who I am today is because of my parents. My mentality, the way I am, the way I treat adults, the way I present myself – it’s all because of them,” Sharp said.
With his junior season of football now over, after a thrilling 52-53 loss to Strathmore High in the 6AA California Interscholastic Federation North Regional Play-In Game on Friday, Sharp is now focusing on his senior season with dreams of playing college football.
As for the life he left behind in Haiti, Sharp says he would like to reconnect with his native culture again someday, but that a reunion with his biological family is unlikely.
“I have no idea if they’re even alive,” Sharp said. “There have been two earthquakes since my parents adopted me. My birth mom is already dead and I only had my dad and my grandma.”
But while his connection to his Haitian relatives might be severed at this point in time, Sharp now finds himself with two families to lean on in times of need — a brotherhood of Yellowjackets on the football field and a family of seven at home which includes stepfather Mathew Stewart and sister Laura Sharp, who was also adopted from Haiti.
“Sometimes I look back and realize where I started, but I don’t look back too much,” Sharp said. “I’m still in the moment.”