AJ Meade-Tatum described his four years at Palos Verdes High as a roller coaster, and that term had little to do with his time on the soccer field.
As a sophomore in 2018, Meade-Tatum's mother, Mary, was diagnosed with colon cancer in November. In 2019, doctors informed the Meade-Tatum family the cancer had spread to her liver.
Mary Meade lost her battle with cancer June 2019, and almost a year later, Meade-Tatum reflected on how he took his mother's death.
"(After my mom died) I didn't take it out the right way. I tried to stay as productive as possible, and I put my emotions to the side," Meade-Tatum said. "I was trying to stay active and keep working out and playing soccer."
What he learned about putting his emotions to the side is something he learned from, and quickly.
"Putting my emotions aside probably wasn't the right thing to do, because it eventually comes back to you when you least expect it," Meade-Tatum said.
Meade-Tatum's goal for his senior season at PV was to make his mother happy, even in death.
"She was the most supportive person to me," Meade-Tatum said. "She was at every one of my games and tournaments, and taking pictures at most of them."
Sea King soccer coach Derek Larkins noticed a change in Meade-Tatum heading into his senior year.
"He was already putting in extra time in the weight room," Larkins said. "He'd lift with the team, and then he'd go workout on his own."
It was the resolve Larkins saw after Mary Meade passed away that shaped the kind of season Meade-Tatum had.
"AJ is very humble, and often quiet, so he didn't tell us much," Larkins said. "Obviously, we worried about him, but he took it upon himself to work even harder while he and his family we're dealing with their horrible loss."
Meade-Tatum was one of eight seniors on this year's PV squad that led the team to a Bay League championship. The UC Riverside-bound Meade-Tatum notched a team-high 14 goals to go along with seven assists, helping PV to a 19-3-3 record.
"He came into his senior year like a player possessed," Larkins said. "He switched from defense to offense and never looked back."
The work he put in made the season that much more enjoyable, and not only for himself, but his teammates, too.
"I didn't think we'd be this good, and I didn't think we'd be better than we were (my junior year)," Meade-Tatum said. "We were better, and we had a lot more fun this year because we were winning almost every game."
It wasn't just his play last season that stood out to Larkins, it was how much of a positive influence he was on the younger players at PV, too.
"I think the most impressive thing about him was how he took younger players in our program under his wing," Larkins said. "We had some freshman this year that idolized him, and they would brag about how they worked out with him over the weekend."
When those younger players reached out to Meade-Tatum, he didn't hesitate to say yes.
"The main reason I told them yes was because I wanted to show them that if you put in the work, the results will show," Meade-Tatum said. "That means a lot to me. It proves I am a role model, and it gives these kids someone else to look up to."
Following the conclusion of the PV soccer season, Meade-Tatum was named to the All-CIF Division 1 team, and just last week, he was named as PV's Male Athlete of the Year.
"I felt accomplished, and proud of myself," said Meade-Tatum on being named Athlete of the Year. "I wasn't expecting this at all, or to have that good of a season, either."
Through his journey at PV, Meade-Tatum found his meaning of family.
"Family is the people you can depend on, and the people who love you the most," Meade-Tatum said. "They'll do anything for you, even die for you."