Lucas Andrews is only 17 years old, but the Absecon resident already has his future planned.

While most students are worried about getting their driver's licenses and concentrating on graduating high school, Andrews is preparing to enter the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., this summer.

He recently got word of his nomination for admission from U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo's office. It is a rare honor to be nominated and Andrews is one of only a handful of graduating high school seniors to be selected.

For Andrews, his West Point nomination is the culmination of years of hard work and determination and the story of an under-achiever who found his path to success.

He has worked hard to raise his academic grades and currently boasts a 3.86 grade-point average and is president of his senior class. Andrews also has the distinction of having been accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., which might have seemed a logical next step for him. But after visiting both military academies, he said he decided that West Point "was a better fit" and a place where he could envision himself in the future.

A senior at the Pilgrim Academy, Andrews has been a cadet in the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps for the past five years.

The USNSCC is a congressionally chartered, United States Navy-based organization that serves to teach youths 13 to 18 years old about the seagoing military services, U.S. naval operations and training, community service, citizenship and an understanding of discipline and teamwork.

The local USNSCC division is based at Coast Guard Station Atlantic City.

"I hope other kids see his story and recognize themselves and what they, too, can achieve," said his mother, Donna. "I hope he inspires others."

Lucas is the third of her four children, she said, and was considered a below-average student coming out of middle school. Not much into sports or academics, he could easily have fallen through the cracks and struggled through those adolescent years, she said.

The turning point came when he became interested in the Sea Cadet organization.

"It was like somebody turned on a light for him," Donna Andrews said. "He became involved and motivated. He found his place in life."

The teenager is also not shy about giving credit to the Sea Cadet program for putting him on his current path.

"It has given me vision and purpose," he said recently from his home. "I know that I would not be who I am today if not for this program."

Andrews said he has been military-minded since he was little and is a self-described history and weapons buff. What he didn't have was a direction, he said.

"When I got that exposure to Sea Cadets, that's when everything clicked," he said. "I knew what I wanted to do for the first time in my life."

Andrews recently was named Sea Cadet of the Year and was promoted to Chief Petty Officer, a distinguished honor and the highest rank in the organization. Currently, only 60 cadets in the country hold that rank.

For his achievement, Andrews has been awarded the Navy League Youth Medal, created by President Theodore Roosevelt, and established to honor those who best exemplify values of energy, spirit, competition and fair play.

The Theodore Roosevelt Youth Medal for Cadet of the Year is an award established by the Navy League and awarded to outstanding Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps cadets and Naval Sea Cadets.

The award consists of a medal, ribbon bar, certificate and pamphlet on President Theodore Roosevelt whose visage is on the medal.

Andrews received the award during a ceremony Jan. 11 at the Brigantine VFW, which also included awards to other cadets.

In addition, he received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from LoBiondo's office.

Lt. Cmdr. Edith O'Brion, commanding officer of USNSCC Atlantic City Division, called Andrews "quite an amazing young man."

"He's done well and is well deserving of what he's accomplished," she said. "He's also a very well-rounded cadet."

Andrews is one of 17 cadets in his age group training at the Atlantic City Division, she said. There are four additional members in a younger group.

She said it took a big commitment from Andrews to move through each level.

"For each step, he had to pass training requirements that involved a lot of work and time," she said. "There was also a standard of leadership that he had to meet, and he surpassed every expectation."

"I feel very privileged," Andrews said. "I know how important it is to have people help you along the way, and I'm grateful for all the guidance and support from my family and mentors."

Andrews is an expert marksman and has been training at a Princeton facility for the past two years. He will soon be traveling to Canada to take part in the Canadian Air Rifle Grand Prix.

Between keeping up his high school grades, his involvement in Sea Cadets, his shooting training and getting ready for basic training at West Point this summer, Andrews said his life is pretty full.

"I like hiking and running outdoors when I can, but it's been hard to find the time at this moment," he said. "Studying and Sea Cadets consume my life right now."

There is one thing, however, that he would like to accomplish before he leaves for West Point this summer. His next goal is getting his driver's license.

Contact Lucia C. Drake: