Some days it's tough for Carlos Vazquez to smile. Some moments are actually difficult for the Costa Mesa High incoming senior, especially whenever football is mentioned.
But Saturday wasn't meant to be sad. Vazquez was seen smiling, happy to see the support for him.
Two months ago, Vasquez was diagnosed with leukemia. His life changed. It doesn't feel normal, he says.
Support from the Costa Mesa football team has helped. The Mustangs, their coach Jeremy Osso and the team's boosters put on "Cutting for Carlos," a special fundraiser for Vazquez at Costa Mesa High on Saturday morning.
Osso was impressed with the turnout, as players from Calvary Chapel and Edison also came to have their hair cut, shaved to have the buzz look.
Vazquez doesn't have much hair either, but not by choice. He recently went through a round of chemotherapy. He said doctors told him he will need to go through more during the next eight months. The thought of that is painful enough for him. But he's deeply disappointed that he won't play football this season.
This was supposed to be his senior season. Known as the toughest player on the team, and its emotional leader, Carlos was set to be a linebacker for the Mustangs. Most likely he would've led the team in tackles.
When Carlos was told he had leukemia, he was hardly concerned if it was life-threatening. He just wanted to know if he could play. His first question: Can I play football?
"Football is like my life," Carlos said. "I love the game. I enjoy the sport. I just love being out there trying 100%. It's beautiful to see everyone playing as one and to see everyone come together."
I'm not sure what Carlos was like before being diagnosed with leukemia, but the young man I met Saturday is one great kid, a special one for sure. In just 15 minutes of an interview, Carlos expressed his passion for life, his love for football and his gratefulness for his survival, as well as the support from friends and the community.
"It has kept me strong," Carlos said of the support. "There have been times I wanted to quit the treatment. I was like, 'I'm over it. I'm over taking the pills. I'm over being in the hospital.' I want to be normal. You know? But my friends are there pushing me, telling me that I have to keep with treatment if I want to get better. It's hard."
He's a special kid indeed.
That was easy to notice Saturday morning. Before, during and after my interview with Carlos, several of his friends and teammates came to hug him.
His teammates would usually have their heads shaved as part of preparation for the upcoming season. Usually it's a team bonding act. But there was something extra special about this event.
The Mustangs are strong when it comes to unity. Sure, they might struggle on the field without Carlos, but they won't lack for emotion and passion. Carlos is too important to them.
They are dedicating their season to him. When they break from huddles, they shout together, "Los."
"We're a family and that's what this is all about," said quarterback Nate Alvis.
When Osso told his players he wanted to have the special hair-cutting fundraiser, Alvis thought his aunts could help. Nancy Noroian and Nicole Terrazi, who are local hair stylists, were among the volunteers who cut hair Saturday. They mostly used the No. 1 setting for the electric clippers.
Many players had never had their heads shaved that short.
"They all said, 'We're doing it for Carlos,'" said Kim Alvis, Nate's mom and the hairstylists' sister. "That is unbelievable support for Carlos."
Osso could tell the event was special for Carlos and his team. He has also acted as a counselor of sorts for Carlos, as they talk about his emotions throughout this process. Saturday was a break from the struggles.
"It's nice because this really shows who Carlos is," Osso said. "He's like a brother to these guys. We're thankful for the great turnout. It's more than we expected."
Osso has also had to comfort his players during these tough times. Some players cried when they heard the news about Carlos.
"It's something you don't want to think about, but you have to because it's reality," said teammate Julian Marquez.
But Marquez and others say Carlos has helped unite the team. Carlos also recently coaxed a teammate to avoid quitting the team. He said a player needed to improve his grades, but wanted to quit instead. Carlos told him that he would give anything to play football and that he shouldn't miss the opportunity to play.
Carlos says he tries to use his football mentality for other areas in his life. If that's the case, he has a great shot at beating the leukemia.
"I would always step up to the biggest guy," Carlos said of playing football. "If he was the biggest and fastest guy, I really wouldn't care. I'm going to go up as hard as I can. At least I gave it my all. I know I gave it my all."