Thursday, December 16, 2010

Socorro Football Player Invited to Showcase Talent at Event in S.C.

By Patrick Jason Rodriguez

It’s about two o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday in the middle of December and Socorro High School football player Ray Vaiza III is inside the weight room at New Mexico Tech.
It’s been about a month since the Warriors’ season ended catastrophically following a 63-21 loss at Albuquerque Academy in the Class 3A quarterfinals and next season won’t begin until late August, but by the way Vaiza’s been focused on lifting weights you’d think he’s preparing for a game later this week.
Already the 17-year-old junior has done arm curls, bench presses and leg squats, and now he’s taking a breather in order to talk to a reporter, but he’s got a busy schedule this afternoon. In a few minutes he’ll be going outside to the athletic field to run through some drills with his friend and Socorro High football teammate Chandler Benavidez. And there’s a good reason for all this urgency. The 5-foot-10 quarterback-slash-defensive back-slash-kick returner-slash-punter has been invited to participate at the National Underclassmen Combine in Charleston, S.C., later this month.
Challenging hurdles still lie ahead, though. Not the combine testing, which will include a 40-yard dash, shuttle run, broad jump, bench press, vertical jump, and a seven-on-seven tournament, but rather the logistics of just getting to South Carolina. The NUC event doesn’t provide invitees with travel expenses, so Vaiza and his father, Ray Vaiza Jr., are hosting a raffle and an enchilada dinner from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. this Friday (Dec. 17) at the DAV Hall to raise some money for the trip to the east coast. For more information on the fundraiser, call 575-418-0156.    
The National Underclassmen Combine bills itself as being the longest running underclassmen event and the most respected combine and football camp in the country. And although there are other recruitment combines for collegiate prospects, Vaiza isn’t taking his invite to the NUC lightly. Playing for a small high school like Socorro in a small state like New Mexico, he knows that this event will be one of a few chances he’ll have to show scouts from some of the best college football programs in the country that in spite of his diminutive size – he wants to play quarterback and college quarterbacks shorter than 6 feet are rare – he has the talent play at a Division II or Division I school.
Vaiza says that his dream has always been to play for the University of Texas, which boasts one of the top college football programs in the country and has sent many of its players into the National Football League. But he’s realistic that because of his lack of height, his goal of playing for a school like Texas, or any Division I program for that matter, might not come to fruition. He’s so far garnered letters of recognition from a few college programs such as Texas A&M (Division I), Eastern New Mexico (Division II), and New Mexico Military Institute (Junior College).
Vaiza is the first player from Socorro to be invited to the National Underclassmen Combine, and only one of a few from New Mexico that received an invitation to the event for this year. “I’m very excited,” he says, “It’s a chance to not only represent the southwest and New Mexico, but to represent Socorro.”
Vaiza found out the night of the Warriors’ loss at Academy that he was invited to the combine. His father, Ray Vaiza Jr., received the invitation via e-mail about a week before, and withheld the information from his son because he wanted to wait for the right moment when to present the news. “I don’t like losing,” says Vaiza, “but getting the invite made me feel a little better.”
Vaiza first started playing football at age five, suiting up for a local flag football team, and has competed in organized football every year since. He even played football during his 8th grade year in Tifton, Ga., about 180 miles south of Atlanta. He and his family lived there for about seven months, the only time he’s ever lived away from Socorro. In Tifton, Vaiza’s coaches weren’t so welcoming at first, insisting that he should be playing soccer instead of football. Vaiza says the coaches in Tifton probably thought that way because he was from New Mexico.
In addition to football, Vaiza has participated in martial arts such as jujitsu and kick boxing, the latter in which he’s compiled an amateur record of 24-5. He’s scheduled to make his mixed martial arts (MMA) debut in February. He also played basketball his freshmen and sophomore years at Socorro. He was the leading scorer on a freshman squad that finished 18-2. He made six appearances as a member of the varsity team his sophomore year. And though Vaiza isn’t playing basketball this season, he hasn’t decided whether or not to play basketball his senior season.  
We’re outside on the athletic field at Tech and Vaiza has just put on his football cleats. His friend Chandler Benavidez arrives a few minutes later. While the two Socorro football teammates begin to toss a football around, the attention shifts toward Ray Vaiza Jr., who’s a noteworthy individual in his own right, and after a few minutes conversation with him you can understand why he’s pushing his son toward attending the NUC and making sure they have the means to get there.
Ray Vaiza Jr. has raised Ray Vaiza III, along with two younger children, pretty much by himself since Ray III was two. A former basketball player who sustained a career-ending ACL injury in high school, Ray Jr.’s athletic outlet for the past decade or so has been mixed martial arts and cage fighting. He also commutes from Socorro to Rio Rancho for work five days per week. He says he doesn’t mind the more than 130-mile roundtrip commute each day and the thought of moving his family closer to where he works is not an option because he would like to see his son finish out his high school career at Socorro. After that, though, he will base his decision on where Ray III ends up after Socorro.
Ray Vaiza III is done tossing the football around with his friend, Chandler, and is now ready to show off his arm strength. His father says that he can toss the ball at least 60 yards, and on a few throws this afternoon it is estimated that Vaiza either matches or exceeds that distance.
During his sophomore season on the junior varsity, Vaiza accounted for 20 touchdowns (both passing and rushing), threw for more than 500 yards, and rushed for 800 yards. This past season he played behind senior Zach Esquivel on the depth chart at quarterback. In his first season on varsity, he played defensive back and compiled some modest statistics – more than 50 tackles, three interceptions, eight pass break-ups, and one touchdown.
Kyle Henderson, who for the past six years has run the website, which has Vaiza ranked No. 95 in the state as far as skills players are concerned, says that Vaiza is decent a underclassmen prospect and that the invitation to the NUC is a good opportunity for him to showcase his talent to not only Division I schools but to smaller Division II and III programs as well. “He’s the kind of athlete who can get things done,” said Henderson, who added that he thinks Vaiza would fit better at a smaller school like NMMI because of a lack of size, especially if Vaiza wishes to play quarterback, though says that Vaiza projects better as a defensive back.  
“A lot coaches say that I should play defensive back,” says Vaiza. “If I can’t play quarterback in college, that’s okay. I played strong safety this past season, and it was fun. I like the contact, I like to hit.”

Photo by Patrick Jason Rodriguez

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