Humans of Harker: Captain of connection

Chris Tonev fosters communities through football and volunteering


Brandon Zau

“Teamwork and the ability to adapt to how other people play is important because everyone has a different skill level and isn’t going to be perfect at first. You’re not going to be perfect when you start. Being able to be patient with yourself and others and then trusting your team is something I’ve learned,” Chris Tonev (12) said.

Anticipation hums in the air as the Harker football team emerges from the locker room in unity, arms linked together. It’s the 2022 Homecoming game, and the crowd erupts into deafening cheers as the players stride onto Davis Field, the energetic Jazz Band and cheerleaders amplifying the excitement. Bursting through the paper banners, co-captain and offensive lineman Chris Tonev (12) leads the charge with unbridled enthusiasm. Fueled by the fervor of the crowd and the unwavering support of his teammates, he poises himself and prepares to begin the game, his heart pumping with adrenaline.

The energy in the stands encapsulates Chris’s love for football. An avid fan of NFL, Chris gravitated toward the teamwork-oriented values and competitiveness of the sport.

“Teamwork and the ability to adapt to how other people play is important because everyone has a different skill level and isn’t going to be perfect at first,” Chris said. “Being able to be patient with yourself and others and then trusting your team is something I’ve learned.”

Football, like any sport, comes with successes and setbacks. The times of stress before and during games has built Chris’s mental strength over the years.

“When [a game] first starts, you feel really tense and nervous because everyone’s watching you,” Chris said. “You worry about having to be the one to make the big play. When you get in your head and think, ‘What happens if I miss? What happens if I mess up here and then everyone else sees me?’ That’s where the mental part of the game becomes something that bothers you a lot.”

For Chris, the positive support of his teammates helped him overcome these obstacles and make playing football worthwhile. In particular, he enjoys helping his teammates improve by offering them advice, and he aims to foster an uplifting atmosphere in the team. Upper school football coach Sid Krishnamurthi praises Chris’s ability to connect with his fellow players.

“Chris is a strong leader, and he’s always fun-loving,” Krishnamurthi said. “He’s always able to step up and have the team’s best interests in mind. The offensive line has the toughest job on the field, in my opinion, but Chris was able to show his skill and leadership very quickly.”

While Chris looks back on his senior season’s notable record of 6-2, he continues to find happiness in simple sweet successes, like the friendships he formed throughout his four years on the team. Close friend and teammate Tyler Beene (12) values Chris’s approachable and light-hearted personality that has strengthened the team’s sense of community.

He’s very compassionate and helps other people feel welcome,” Tyler said. “I also admire his humor. He’s able to tell the smallest story and make others laugh.”

With a desire to create more personal connections, Chris began volunteering at the Tech Interactive museum in San Jose the summer after his junior year. Taking on the role of an exhibition facilitator, he guides visitors through the biology and human anatomy displays, sharing his knowledge and answering any questions they pose. For Chris, volunteering made him comfortable in communication with many groups of people, including scientific experts. 

“I was able to increase my knowledge in biology, and the process also helped me with my confidence when I talk to people,” Chris said. “Some people actually came in knowing more than me, so it was really interesting when I got to talk to those people, and it’d just lead to a nice, casual conversation.”

By seeking advice from the more seasoned volunteers, Chris learned to adapt to the new environment, and in turn, he often shared his own insights with newer volunteers. Much like in football, he discovered that working with other high schoolers allowed him to form a new community that fostered a sense of connection and belonging that contribute to his considerate and positive personality. 

“Chris is very caring and protective, especially with the people that he’s really close with,” close friend and football teammate Nicholas Delfino (12) said. “He’s a very selfless person. On the football team, he leads by example and really helps everyone else improve just with the positive attitude he has going into every practice and drill.”

After Chris has tackled the adversities of high school, from football to volunteering, one particular achievement stands out to him above all others: his persistent effort to build meaningful connections.

“Reaching out of my boundaries to connect with others is something I am proud of doing,” Chris said. “At school, I try to talk to people I don’t see as often. I also started connecting with underclassmen through football, and with volunteering, I get to see people of different ages and backgrounds. I’m able to talk with them about something that we’re both interested in, and I can teach them what I know about biology.”