Overcoming difficulty through football

When you look at Jesse Ortiz you see the prototypical college student: he goes to class, enjoys working out in the gym and loves hanging out with friends. However, a quick glance of his daily schedule would not reveal Jesse’s true identity.

Jesse Ortiz is a walk-on place-kicker for the Arizona Wildcats football team, but also is a victim of the most widespread disorders in the world today.

“I was diagnosed at birth with a case of Asperger’s syndrome,” Ortiz said. “It was pretty severe.”

Despite being born with this difficult, yet increasingly common, disorder, it took over half the interview for him to reveal this to me.

“A lot of people are shocked when I tell them that I am autistic,” he said.

Jesse Ortiz and his fraternal twin Chelsea were born to parents Margaret and Manny Ortiz on May 3, 1992 in Culver City, Calif. Early in his childhood, numerous doctors told Jesse’s parents that he was not going to be able to live his life like a normal kid, and would most likely end up spending the latter parts of his life in a group home.

He eventually moved to Peoria, Ariz., where he spent time in speech classes and needed help completing courses from classroom assistants. Outside of learning, he tried his hand at soccer but was told that he was too rough for the sport.

When he reached high school age, he made a firm declaration to his parents.

“I told them that I wanted to play football because it sounded cool,” Ortiz said.

At Centennial High School, he joined the team as an offensive lineman, but found his niche in kicking almost instantly. By his senior year, he became the starting kicker on a varsity team.

He developed a good relationship with his coach, Kyle Pooler, a former Arena Football League kicker, whose aggressiveness pushed Jesse to be the best that he could be. And his performance showed, making nearly all of his extra points and a few field goals during his senior campaign.

Meanwhile, his story gained national attention when he received a nomination for the high school Rudy Awards, which are given annually to football players who overcame adversity. While he did not end up winning the award, he was one of three semi-finalists.

Inspired by his story, one of the representatives from the Rudy Awards sent a letter to Special Teams Coordinator Jeff Hammerschmidt at the University of Arizona explaining Jesse’s circumstances. They took a look at him and told him that he could try out for the team.

After grueling practices, he was offered a spot on the team’s roster.

“Right now, I don’t think I’m that good collegiately, but I think it’s because they may have seen something in me,” Ortiz said.

In an email, Coach Hammerschmidt stated that, “He has a tremendous work ethic and desire to become the best kicker he can be. His attitude is great every day.”

An education major, Jesse realizes that a professional football career is not a very realistic option, so he has already boiled down his future plans to the following: a wife, a house, kids and a job that would specifically help others.

Coach Hammerschmidt believes that “someday he will be on the field kicking for the Wildcats in some capacity.”

A very humble Jesse is “hoping I can finish my story off with a big bang, but I’m crossing my fingers.”

But regardless of what ends up happening, Jesse has a lot of people supporting and cheering for him.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 105: Principles of Journalism class.