Two weeks after Ronnie Urquiza turned 18 on June 6, he sat down to write the hardest four paragraphs in his life. It took him two days to finish.
He shut the door in his bedroom, took a seat at his desk, and before writing anything on paper, Urquiza looked back on his life. He relived all the pain. He said his parents divorced when he was 5, and there are other experiences he cannot talk about openly.
Writing allowed him to open up.
For four hours, Urquiza cried, he wrote, then cried again, and wrote some more. The first writing session ended. He needed to finish soon. His football coach at Estancia High planned to edit the four paragraphs.
A day later, Urquiza gave it to Coach Mike Bargas, who was going to help with grammar. Bargas read the essay and he was at a loss for words.
In four paragraphs, Bargas learned a lot about Urquiza, more than he had in three years coaching him. His star linebacker has tackled a lot in life, and his story is a reason why Urquiza has earned a trip of a lifetime.
Urquiza is traveling to Canton, Ohio next week for the Pro Football Hall of Fame festivities. The trip, starting on July 30 and ending on Aug. 4, is part of the Legacy Leadership Project, a yearlong mentoring program offered to football players entering their senior year of high school.
Bargas said Urquiza is one of two players from Orange County participating this year. Bargas nominated Urquiza, and for the second time in three years, he and an Estancia player will take in all the Pro Football Hall of Fame events, from the enshrinement ceremony, to the exhibition game between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills, to rubbing elbows with NFL legends at luncheons and dinners.
For Urquiza, the trip will offer many firsts, flying in a plane, attending an NFL game, and meeting someone who played the game at the highest level. Urquiza's mentor will be Mike Haynes, a Hall of Fame cornerback. He already has a list of questions for Haynes.
"I'm for sure going to ask him [what's] it [like] to be a celebrity, and what did he do to achieve his goals," Urquiza said. "I'm going to ask him if he ever had a hard time in his life. If it's too personal for him to answer, I'll understand."
Urquiza has been through a lot, but he said his mother, Josie Artiglio, his grandparents, Olga and Mito Urquiza, have always been there for him. The three are his role models. Mom works hard to provide for Urquiza and his older sister, Kalina Urquiza.
Another person Urquiza looks up to is Bargas. Urquiza said Bargas gives him advice to be himself and do well in school. Bargas has filled a void in Urquiza's life.
"I don't know how it feels to have a father figure around," Urquiza said. "I see the other kids and I see their fathers congratulating them after the game. I don't get that attention from my father."
Urquiza isn't one to complain. Trying to see the best in everything helps.
Playing football has taught him discipline and made him a better person. The sport gives Urquiza an outlet to clear his mind and forget about the troubling childhood. He never wants to leave the field. His teammates are his brothers. His coaches live the kind of respectable life he wants.
Urquiza, a first-team All-Orange Coast League pick last season, believes the experience at the Pro Football Hall of Fame will change his life for the better.
"Hopefully I'll come back as more of a competitor, a leader," said Urquiza, who will be a captain for the second time this upcoming fall season. "I'm going to ask a lot of questions about what it takes to be a leader."
Bargas sees a leader in Urquiza, a soft-spoken 6-foot-1, 185-pounder. He has watched Urquiza go all out on the field for four quarters. He has also seen Urquiza pour his heart out in four paragraphs.