"Fortunately, I didn't have to make a choice," says Escarpeta, who also ran track and sang at his graduation ceremonies. "I had a very understanding football coach...I suppose it helped that one of the coaches was an actor too!"
Escarpeta is a native of Belize (formerly British Honduras) in Central America who came to the United States after his father, a construction worker, died when he was 3. His mother, a manager for a dental office, settled in Los Angeles where her young son began to sing and dance in the Young Saints Scholarship Foundation. At 9, Escarpeta was cast in the title role of his elementary school's stylized production of "Hamlet" and was won over by the applause he received at the final curtain.
From there, Escarpeta attended several arts magnet schools in Los Angeles until he arrived at Hollywood High, where he honed his skills in dance, technical and music theater, and drama. He has since attended Pasadena City College for more than two years while studying sociology. Despite swift times of 21.8 seconds running the 200-yard dash and a personal best of 47'- 2 ½" in the triple jump -- he opted to concentrate on acting rather than dedicate the necessary amount of time to the junior college's track team.
"I've realized how much my knowledge of sociology can help me prepare for a role," says Escarpeta, who can also be seen prominently in the pilot of NBC's "Boomtown" as the doomed Cantrel. "Studying different cultures can benefit my acting so that I can know them better."
Escarpeta's career has skyrocketed recently with guest-starring roles on the TV series "Boston Public," "Judging Amy" and in the recent season finale of "The Shield." His feature-film work includes "High Crimes" (starring Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman) and the upcoming independent work, "The Court."
On his new series, Escarpeta portrays a teenager - who also runs track - at a private Catholic high school during the social turmoil of the 1960s. "He's very close to who I am," he says. "He has a sense of humor and has something to say about his world then and I have something to say about ours today."
In his leisure time, Escarpeta prefers to draw cartoon characters ("I'm a cartoon fanatic"), read non-fiction and restore his 1964 Volkswagen Beetle sedan. He's also a Los Angeles Laker and Dallas Cowboy fan, and remains active working for the Young Saints Scholarship Foundation. His birthday is April 9.
Photos: Paul Drinkwater