Hiram Johnson High School English teacher Peter Vidovich wanted his students to see tangible results from a persuasive writing assignment.
So, Vidovich tasked his students with persuading the popular mixed martial arts fighter Urijah Faber to visit the campus.
"It worked," Faber said Wednesday, moments after signing autographs and posing for dozens of pictures with Hiram Johnson students.
Vidovich said he thought Faber would be a great target for his persuasive writing assignment because he has local roots, graduated from the University of California, Davis, and now has a successful fighting career and several business ventures.
Faber, a former standout wrestler, attended high school in Lincoln and now owns the popular gym Ultimate Fitness in midtown Sacramento.
What many of the students didn't know was that Faber lived near Hiram Johnson when he was in elementary school.
"I was really touched by the letters you sent," Faber told the students. "I started out as a guy chasing a dream."
Addressing a cafeteria filled with students, Faber detailed the lengths he went to to chase that dream, working 16-hour days busing tables and coaching while training for a sport that, at the time he began, was illegal in California. Mixed Martial Arts wasn't sanctioned by the state until 2005, although fights were able to be held at Indian casinos.
Faber told the students that life is not about where you came from, but how hard you are willing to fight for your future. A proponent of healthy eating, Faber used his visit to encourage the teens to make the right choices, whether it's about nutrition or their friends.
Faber said the letters students wrote to him reminded him of a letter he once wrote in eighth grade asking that a wrestling camp allow him to wash dishes in exchange for tuition he couldn't afford.
Faber said he was particularly touched by the letters from students that referenced their desire to turn around the poor reputation of their school.
"People talk about the reputation of this school, that's it's 'ghetto,' " Faber told students. "Who cares what they think? If you are bothered by what people say, let that motivate you."
Many students said they took Faber's words to heart.
"It was really motivating for students," said student Rainee Strebel, 18, who is on the school's wrestling team. "This was a really good experience."
Senior Delilah Soto coordinated the efforts to bring Faber to campus as part of her senior project. Soto and Strebel hand-delivered the student letters to Faber's midtown gym.
"This school has a bad reputation and things like this help," said student Patrick Xiong.