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Close to the heart

Valencia linebacker Rocky Maldonado honors his mom with his actions

Posted: October 7, 2009 10:03 p.m.
Updated: October 8, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Valencia linebacker Rocky Maldonado makes a tackle on a teammate in practice Wednesday.

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Valencia High football head trainer Burt Dominguez walks through a field on the north end of campus. He’s on his way to a hill at the base of campus where the players are conditioning.

“You’re going to hear it: ‘Yes sir. Yes sir.’” Burt says about the player. “Great kid.”

The kid approaches.

Square-jawed.

Mutton chop sideburns and piercing eyes.

A little blood pipelining his left nostril.

Even his name gives his look more menace — Rocky, named after boxing legend Rocky Marciano.

Yet almost as if on cue, the menacing-looking 17-year-old says: “Nice to meet you sir.”

There is little menace inside Maldonado’s heart.

His teammates and coaches laud him for the respect he shows and the care he gives.

“Rocky is as respectful and good-hearted a kid that you’re ever going to meet,” says Valencia head coach Larry Muir.

The respect comes from his father, the senior linebacker says.

Julio Maldonado has raised four kids on his own for the last seven years.

It comes from his first youth football coach, who told his players to address their elders by calling them: “Sir.”

And it comes from his mother, Ann.

“To always love one another — that love never stops,” Maldonado says of what he learned from his mother.

It has been seven years since Ann died after a battle with breast cancer.

Every single football game he has played in since, Maldonado has worn a T-shirt with Ann’s picture on it.

Maldonado says he has pink wristbands, which are symbols for breast cancer awareness, but the T-shirt honors his mother even more.

“Every time I put on that shirt, I know she’s there on the field with me,” Maldonado says.

People know about what Maldonado has gone through, yet some shy away from talking to him about it.

Valencia defensive coordinator Robert Waters says he has never asked Maldonado about his circumstances, yet he knows about them and has immense respect for the player.

Cornerback Brock Vereen has been a friend of Maldonado’s since fourth grade. He says he asked him very early on about the T-shirt and got the point of it very quickly.

“I always knew it was something special to him,” Vereen says. “Every game, he’s he had it on.

“She would be so proud of him. He’s a strong kid physically, obviously, and mentally. He’s impacted so many lives.”

Valencia is the No. 2 team in the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division. The Vikings were a preseason consensus Foothill League title favorite.

They are loaded with talent. But Maldonado provides the team with something more.

He is like a glue.

“Anytime you have a really talented player with character, it makes the team that much better,” Muir says. “It rubs off on the other kids. Not just his approach to preparation, but his approach to his teammates.”

Vereen says Maldonado has stopped practice before when things went awry.

He slowed things down and encouraged his teammates.

In the huddle, he’ll relax them by singing.

Who does he sing?

“Michael Jackson,” Vereen laughs.

But his play on the field has been equally as important, Waters says.

Maldonado and Vereen were both talented running backs as freshmen, seemingly the future of the Valencia offense.

But both found different roles upon arriving on the varsity team.

Maldonado, who is a back-up running back, has been a force at inside linebacker for the Vikings.

“He has been huge,” Waters says.

As a running back, Maldonado’s straight-ahead running style displays his affinity for hitting. He takes the same approach as a defender and thus has been a big reason why the Vikings are 4-0 heading into Saturday’s matchup with Loyola of Los Angeles.

Yet Maldonado also has an affinity for other things in life.

His education — he says he has a 4.17 grade point average.

His teammates — it’s been widely said that there isn’t one person that doesn’t like him.

And his family.

Maldonado has three younger sisters he tries to be a role model for.

He has a father who has taught him to stay humble.

And he has a mother that’s with him every step of the way.

“She means a lot to me,” he says. “Besides my football pads, (the T-shirt) is like my armor going into the game.”

 

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