Newport Harbor High's Riley Gaddis (4) earned Sunset League first-team status as a junior in the fall.

Newport Harbor High's Riley Gaddis (4) earned Sunset League first-team status as a junior in the fall. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / May 14, 2014)

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Before some of his high school football games, Riley Gaddis has watched video clips of Ronnie Lott, one of his NFL favorite players, deliver monster hits.

Gaddis says he got the idea from a coach, Kirk Norton, during freshman football, when the Newport Harbor High standout played safety. Just watching Lott, inspired and motivated Gaddis.

Gaddis met Lott Wednesday afternoon, and you can say it was a meaningful encounter. It was so relevant that Lott singled out Gaddis during the Hall of Famer's poignant speech at the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list luncheon at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach.

Lott told Gaddis to stand up and Lott talked about what he told the Sailors' football player during their one-on-one meeting just before the luncheon.

"Young man," Lott said in front of everyone. "You have a great opportunity."

Lott continued to speak about opportunity and spoke like part preacher, part coach with words that resulted in a standing ovation.

Gaddis stood too, motivated to fulfill his potential, as Lott advised.

"[Lott] treats every person like they're an important individual," said Gaddis, who helped the Sailors to a remarkable run to the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division title game in the fall. "Every single person he meets he wants to know them personally. He sees value in each person. He saw value in me. He acknowledged it in front of everybody."

Gaddis, a linebacker/running back/receiver, will be a senior this fall. He said he was, "pumped up," to hear Lott's message.

Gaddis, a Sunset League first-team selection, also left an impression on Lott.

"Riley is a young man that is finding his way and finding his path," Lott said after the luncheon. "He's a young man that's been adopted by a family and he knows that there are things he wants to do in his life. It's not necessarily playing football. It's just making sure he's maximizing who he is. And that's what I'm hoping we have the opportunity to do with this community of people. That's the message I want to give him. All of us, we have that responsibility to make sure we take care of that young man."

Lott said he, "got fired up," during his speech to close the luncheon. The keynote speaker, USC Coach Steve Sarkisian, is the one to credit for that.

Sarkisian, who also spoke about his Trojans, ended with a story about Lott.

Sarkisian said he saw Lott, during the legendary safety's 14th season in the NFL, at the New York Jets' training camp. After practice, when several players left for the locker room, Lott stayed and started punching at a 100-pound bag.

Sarkisian smacked his fist to provide more emphasis and said that other younger players followed Lott and hit the bag too because they saw what it took to become great.

Lott then followed and spoke in a fiery tone.

"I got fired up, hearing about that bag," said Lott, who paced in front of the podium, speaking without the microphone. "There are people in this room who are hitting the bag in their community. How can you not get fired up? How can you not want to play this game of life and play it the right way? It's about the responsibility to serve others. Don't ever stop."

Lott and the trophy's board members, who include Balboa Island residents Terry Donahue and Mike White and chairman John Hamilton of Newport Beach, were united in the belief that the special defensive player award continues to gain more notoriety as it enters its 11th year.

The annual watch list luncheon was an announcement for the 42 players vying for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, an award that honors the player who has the biggest impact on and off the field.

IMPACT is an acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.