Senior finds haven in football

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Jasper senior Moises Valenciano paced around the locker room trying to pump up himself and his teammates before the start of Friday’s game against Princeton at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium in Jasper. Valenciano’s work ethic has earned him a starting position on the Wildcats’ varsity defense since his sophomore year.

Herald Sports Editor

Moises Valenciano approached Tony Ahrens one day at school, just as he does every day without fail. Valenciano needed a little help. But he didn’t spill the whole story at first, so Ahrens, his football coach, had to do a little probing.

T, my truck... Valenciano started.

“All right, Mo, now what’s wrong with your truck?

It’s out by (Buffalo) Wings & Rings.

Well, what’s wrong with it?

It’s parked on the side of the road.

It was Ahrens to the rescue again, as he called a wrecker service and had Valenciano’s Ford Ranger towed back to safety.

It wasn’t later until Ahrens learned the diagnosis of the problem: out of gas.

He wanted to be irritated, but a part of him just laughed. So it was Ahrens to the rescue again, as he called the wrecker service and had Valenciano’s Ford Ranger towed back to safety.

The arrangement has unfolded like this ever since Valenciano was in middle school. As a group, the Jasper football coaches look after and provide for Valenciano as a son, as Valenciano’s biological parents live in Mexico. Coaches and teammates come to Valenciano’s aid with material things, though the senior has gotten much more out of football than that — a sense of involvement, a turnaround in his academics and a parting from his troublemaking past.

No one asks for anything in return. By Valenciano merely being himself, that more than suffices.

“He’s got such a likeable personality. He’s just a guy that you want to help, and he appreciates help,” Ahrens says. “He sincerely appreciates things you do for him. But he’s a person that needs, not just items, but he needs us to teach him how to manage things here — not just day to day, but manage life and manage the way you should and shouldn’t react to things.”

Adds Wildcat senior Courtland Betz: “He’s always nice to everybody for the most part, and you just want to give back to him.”

Every year, Ahrens pays for Valenciano’s sports physical that all athletes are required to complete. Each Thursday, Valenciano hauls in a bag of laundry to school, and Ahrens washes the clothes at school and returns them to Valenciano later the same day. Valenciano paid for his truck with some money of his own, as well as the assistance of others. And just a few days before his car ran out of gas, Valenciano had just gotten his truck back from having better than $600 worth of repairs; Ahrens helped pool the necessary cash from the football and wrestling teams’ funds and doled out some from his own pocket, as well.

Last season, Valenciano found himself in need of cleats. Teammate Brayden Betz tossed him an old pair that were too small and slightly tattered, but serviceable. The magnanimous spirit is easy to come by, though, because of the connections that Valenciano makes.

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
With the Wildcats leading comfortably against Princeton, Valenciano joked with his teammates on the sideline after the starters were pulled in the third quarter of Friday night’s game in Jasper.

Every morning, Valenciano arrives at school around 7 o’clock, and his first stop is Ahrens’ office. They chat about anything and everything.

“Just hang around with him. Have someone to talk to, just to build a bond,” Valenciano explains.
Sometimes, Valenciano will loiter a while. Ahrens knows why. After about 15 or 20 minutes, or when the right time occurs, he’ll whisper to his coach that he needs something, whether it’s new socks or a fill-up on gas.

“I’m really thankful for that,” Valenciano says. “They’re like my parents, they take care of me. Whatever I need, schoolwise, they take care of me. Stuff like that, like a parent would treat a son. I’m thankful I’m around people like that, that love me and care for me.”

The boost in quality of life is why there’s a distance of nearly 2,000 miles between Valenciano and his biological parents, Adolfo and Teresa. Adolfo was a laborer at Farbest Foods when Moises was young, and for a few years the family moved to Michigan where Adolfo worked picking asparagus and blueberries. Adolfo retired and he and Teresa moved back to Mexico, but Moises stayed in Huntingburg with brother Adolfo Jr., 36, and sister Maria Rodriguez, 27.

His parents wanted Moises to get a better education and in a safer climate than back in Aguascalientes, a city of more than 1 million people about four hours northwest of Mexico City. Other than visiting Mexico for a few weeks every year around Christmas, communication with his parents is typically confined to one or two phone calls a week.

“Your parents are away, and then every teenager wants their parents around him,” Valenciano says. “I certainly miss them, but it’s for my good.”

Moises floats between family, living at his brother’s trailer in Huntingburg most of the time and also staying with his sister in Jasper occasionally. Adolfo Jr. makes it to a handful of Moises’ football and wrestling events and Maria is busier still, but no matter what family is or isn’t around, Moises said he routinely feels cloaked in support.

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Each school day, Jasper High School senior Moises Valenciano, right, strolls into football head coach Tony Ahrens’ office at the school shortly after 7 a.m. before heading to class. On Tuesday morning, Valenciano joked around with his coach, left, and defensive coordinator Nick Eckert.

Football, and the players and coaches within it, has provided a sanctuary. When Moises was a middle-schooler, others saw a guy with the fusion of size and speed to equal a productive football player. Valenciano saw a chance to spew some of his aggression and make a reform. “I was a troublemaker, he admits. “Definitely, football changed my life.”

“When I started going to middle school, I was...” he says, developing a grin, “not a good boy. I was (an) aggressive guy. I liked the violence. And then one day, my teammates told me to try out for football, and I liked it from there. I didn’t get in trouble, my grades increased, everything.”

Originally, he didn’t know the difference between a fullback and a defensive back. He showed up at his first practice, and coaches pointed him toward the defensive line.

He auditioned as the nose guard: lining up across from the opposing team’s center and trying to create havoc upon snap.

“Line him up on defense, turn him loose and let him go,” Ahrens recalls.

He knows his position and is certainly a niche performer; Courtland Betz recalls that last season, after the Wildcat defense plucked an interception and began running the other way, Valenciano unknowingly tackled an opposing player from behind.

But what he does, he does well. Three years after his first football practice, Valenciano was a varsity starter as a sophomore. Ahrens points out that Valenciano’s tackle numbers were better then than they are now, because opposing defenses are pinpointing him with double-teams.

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Valenciano’s helmet is decorated with Wildcat stickers that he’s earned for his contributions to the Wildcats’ defense this season.

Valenciano still takes his share of heat from coaches on the football field, as any player does, but work ethic is among his hallmarks. Assistant coach Joe Shelton has had Valenciano help work on his farm. When one of defensive coordinator Nick Eckert’s neighbors was moving and asked Eckert to round up a few hard-working football players to help, Valenciano was one of the guys picked.
He also holds a part-time job cleaning and doing other odd jobs at Dubois Wood Products, but religion and faith top the hierarchy of work and football.

He’s a regular at New Life United Pentecostal Church on Thursday nights and both Sunday morning and night. After practices on Tuesday nights, he canvasses town knocking on doors to promote religion and invite folks to church — which is the same way Adolfo and Moises first discovered the church when a visitor rapped on their door more than three years ago. When the Wildcats visited Lucas Oil Stadium for their game Sept. 21 and went out to a restaurant afterward, Valenciano didn’t let anyone dig in to their meal before they prayed first.

Valenciano also preaches at church on the last Thursday of each month, delivering a message he writes himself. “I read the Bible and then God starts speaking to me, and I just keep writing,” he says.

He talks the talk, walks the walk and even dresses the dress.

Conforming with the piety of the Pentecostal faith, Valenciano has adopted a dress code of modesty. He regularly covers most of his skin with clothing, even if that means wearing sweatpants during August’s oppressive two-a-day practices. In wrestling, he wears sleeves and tights under his singlet.

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Jasper senior Moises Valenciano gathered his thoughts in the locker room before the start of Friday night’s game against Princeton.

Valenciano once bypassed a football practice for a church commitment, unintentionally landing himself in hot water as he didn’t inform his coaches he’d be absent. Ahrens acknowledges “he’s got a learning curve,” and the incident prompted the coach to address the concept of commitment to his defensive standout.

The education is ongoing elsewhere, too.

Moises grew up speaking Spanish in his house as his first language and still banters in español with teammate Pablo Santos, but he didn’t learn English until second or third grade. Now, his English is slightly choppy, and Moises said he’s gradually picking up new vocabulary all the time.

There’s a reason for his yearn to learn.

Valenciano is on track to become the first person from his extended family to graduate from high school. He wants to hike it a step further. He’s trying to get accepted to Indiana University and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and as he currently shadows cardiologists as part of Jasper’s Health Occupations Students of America program, he’s interested in a career in the same field.

Moises expects there to be a bit of a party when he graduates, and he’s hoping his parents and other family can make the trek to Jasper to join in his moment. That’s a ways off still. But he’s got a good idea of how he’ll feel.

“Pretty proud of myself. I feel like I accomplished something in life. Something that I show people that I can do,” he says.

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Jasper’s Moises Valenciano waited on one knee in front of the ball as the Vincennes Lincoln players lined up at the line of scrimmage during the Sept. 21 game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Until then, he’s basking in a final run with his football family, whom he’s tried to repay the best way he knows.

“I spend a lot of time with them, because they’re good people, and then they teach me good morals and they just help me in life,” he says.

“I believe my success and the way I act and the way I treat people... (I want to) pay them like that with my kindness and my attitude.”

Ahrens can’t forget three years ago at Evansville Reitz. Jasper was working an undefeated season, and the prior year when the Wildcats also were unblemished, the Panthers had extinguished Jasper’s season.

“T, I won’t let this happen to you again,” Valenciano told him as they walked out of the locker room toward the field.

Jasper didn’t win that night. But Ahrens soldered a connection. And vice versa for Valenciano.

“He’s a guy that I would say that you’d like to have 11 guys like that on your defense,” Ahrens says. “Not only because he’s physically able to and he plays (hard), but his sincerity to do well, not just to be good at football, but for the approval of whoever he’s around. If he’s got a relationship with somebody and it means something to him, he does not want to disappoint.”

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