(845) 563-3400     124 Grand Street, Newburgh, NY 12550

Vote for Semaj Branch - Heart of a Giant

NFA West student athlete, Semaj Branch is in the running for the Heart of a Giant award. Having a Heart of a Giant means possessing characteristics like Commitment, Character, Teamwork, Dedication, and Will. Voting is now open to support Semaj! Vote for Semaj here!

Commitment: Unshakable work ethic in training and preparation. Exhibits a “first in, last out” mentality.

Character: Leads by example and motivates teammates to be the best they can be.

Teamwork: Inspires and aligns others to work together to achieve a common goal.

Dedication: Finds a way to persevere when faced with obstacles and adversity.

Will: Demonstrates the desire and drive to succeed both on the field, in the classroom and within their community.

More about Semaj:

Semaj is on the Defensive Line for the NFA Football team.

What criteria defines you having the “Heart of a Giant” and explain how it applies to you?

“Dedication” applies to who I am as a person for various reasons. Last year, I spent a significant amount of time taking care of my mother who was very ill. During this time, I also cared for my little sister while having to focus on football, basketball and a travel baseball team. At that time I was only 15 years old, but I had no other choice but to take care of my family. It was a very challenging time but I knew that the love I had for my family would help keep me motivated to help and support the situation as much as I could. Through it all I stayed focused on my goals, improved in school and made the varsity football team as a Sophomore.

There were so many times that I wanted to give up and wondered if there was anything to strive for and live for seeing the condition my mother was in and having to take care of my sister. I constantly felt like nothing was going to get better. At times, I just felt like a dead soul walking onto the football field, the weight room and the basketball court. I felt like I was living life alone, like nobody had me. I believe I have the “Heart of a Giant” because I was able to stand tall and persevere through love for my family. I used these challenges to push through each night that I stayed up late helping my mom and sister and having to wake up for school and be there at 7am, to then have to show determination and strength on the field and basketball court. I stood tall by gaining a varsity starting spot on my football team while getting my family situated and being there for my mother. I even started my own business that my mom helped me build before she passed away. Although my heart suffered a lot during that time, it continues to motivate me to aim for greatness in honor of my mother and my sister.

Tell us about a time you faced adversity in your life and how playing football helped you overcome such adversity?

A time period in my life that I overcame adversity was my six grade school year to the middle of my 10th grade year in high school. It was two weeks after my birthday in January during my sixth grade year when I found out my mother had stage III breast cancer. It was at that age I began caring for my mother. As time progressed, I realized that my mom would overreact over things I saw as small or when I would get in trouble. Her overreacting was to teach me life lessons. She would always tell me how important my future is and that I needed to take life seriously. From my sixth grade year to my tenth grade year my mom had three surgeries, two on her breast and one on her brain. The cancer spread in her body so badly that it started to have a significant effect on her daily health. As this was happening to my mother, I also had to take care of her and my grandmother who had dementia. My mom’s health continued to decline and started to go down when I entered ninth grade. I continued to take care of her and then experienced the loss of my great grandmother in December. My great grandmother’s passing was difficult because she passed away at my family’s house and I was there to see her take her last breath while she was laying in a bed with all of our family sitting by her side. I still remember sitting in my room crying my eyes out.

Beginning in February, my mother’s health continued to decline even further. We couldn’t go out to eat to celebrate her birthday because she wasn’t feeling well and it was to the point where she wasn’t able to walk at times. She wasn’t even able to do my sister’s hair on certain days. On April 15, I decided to stay home and put my little sister on the bus to help my mother out. I walked out of my room and went and checked on my mom. She was laying over in her chair in her bedroom and started mumbling her words. She said she couldn’t breathe and said she had to get my little sister off the bus. I asked her if she wanted to go to the hospital and she said no and I still called the ambulance and told her everything was going to be alright. On April 17 the doctors gave me the option and told me that either my mom could live on a machine for the rest of our life or we can take her off the machine. As a 15-year-old young man, I had to make that choice on my own for me and my sister. I chose to pull the plug and until this day, it still plays through my head. On April 17, my mom took her last breath. How did I overcome the darkest stage of my life? Football. I went back to Football and it was my safe place. My team and coaches showed me so much love and support that I needed. They showed me the definition of how teamwork can help you through tough times. I was motivated to start for my mother. I worked hard. First game, I didn’t start, 2nd Game, I didn’t start, 3rd Game, I started. It was the most important game for me because it was a “Pink out” Game. I put on all of my pink gear for my mother and honored her. I felt in that moment a sense of perseverance and strength for my mom and I have Football and the support I received to thank for that.

What do you enjoy most about playing football?
Football is a sport that brings about positive results to people’s lives especially mine. Football has allowed me to meet new people and put the city I live in on the map for the youth in our program. There is a lot of crime and shootings in our community but there is also a large amount of talent in our community that needs to be recognized. Football takes away from that negative image of our city. I love my city so I am constantly looking for ways to celebrate the good things that happen in it. Football is one of them.


During the most difficult times in my life, Football allows me to release all of my emotions without negativity and helps me to learn how to be a problem solver. Without football, life would feel like a dark shadow. When I am on the field, I feel free to be me and love what I do. I also love Football because I can continue to honor my mother and there is a possibility for me to continue this sport in college and eventually provide for my family. My grades are also good because I am passionate about playing football in college. I don’t play it for the fans, I don’t play it for that popularity, I play it for me, just to be me. I want the youth in my city to know that there is a positive outcome through sports. I just want to be a positive role model to my community, my family and to my little sister

Tell us about how you spend your time off the field or what you enjoy doing when not playing football?

When I am off the field, I am making t-shirts for my business. I make custom T-shirts for people who want to place special orders. I can print all types of designs, lettering, etc to meet each customer’s needs. I also play a variety of sports even though Football is my #1 sport. I play Varsity Basketball and I play with a travel baseball team. I also spend a lot of time with my little sister Fatimah and my two longtime friends Tyler and DJay. I like going fishing and paintballing. I also love spending time with my family and friends.


More about the award:

USA Football's Heart Of A Giant is presented by Hospital for Special Surgery and the New York Giants. This award program seeks to find and highlight Tri-State high school players who demonstrate that extra something special. The ones that have a relentless work ethic and unmatched love for the game.

Values like commitment, character, teamwork, dedication and will are crucial every season. But in times like this, they matter even more. When your players can't be side by side, when they don't take the fields on Friday nights, who helps keep the team together?

That's who we're looking for. High school football may look different this year, but your athletes who inspire greatness both on and off the field still deserve the recognition.

Highlight them to show what they mean to your team. Give them a chance to win a $5,000 equipment grant for your program.

Voting opens and athletes promote themselves for the chance to be named a finalist for the Heart of a Giant award. One athlete with the most votes will be chosen each week as well as an additional 5 based on work ethic and character making 11 total finalists.

ATTENTION: Are your scholars or colleagues doing something great? Please contact the district Communications Team at communications@necsd.net. We’d love to visit your class or event and/or post your pictures and recap to highlight the amazing accomplishments throughout our district!

Date: 2020-09-24 02:46:55 AM


Main Switchboard
Food Services
BOE Clerk
Human Resources
Tax Office
Newburgh Free Library


Meadow Hill
New Windsor
Temple Hill
Vails Gate
Heritage Middle
South Middle
NFA Main
NFA North
NFA West