How many college freshman do you know that would spend their Spring Break visiting struggling rural Native American reservations to speak about the value and opportunities college and sports have to offer? And how many 19 year olds (let alone football players) do you know who would willingly dress up in a red onezie and a blue wig and pretend to be Thing I from the Dr. Seuss books for elementary school kids to celebrate reading? (In fairness, 3 other football players dressed up along with him.) But you get the idea, this guy, whoever he is, wants to help out however he possibly can.
Alejandro Maldonado , a 19 year-old freshman place kicker on the football team, has discovered early that a little effort and giving back can make a big difference. Because of his demonstrated commitment to being a positive role model for the youth, both here in Eugene and in his native Colton, California, Alejandro has been selected as the O Heroes "Hero of the Month" for April.
Having played soccer practically his whole life, Alejandro discovered he could also kick a football pretty darn well too just before high school, through a kicking competition hosted by Snap,Hold & Kick. Snap,Hold & Kick is a non-profit that seeks to develop the youth through sports and education and holds free clinics and regular instruction for aspiring football kickers. Hugo Castellanos, the program's founder and a former University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) kicker was impressed with Alejandro right from the start.
"I was like 'oh my god' this kid has so much potential!" Castellanos said. The rest was history, and now that he's a Duck, Alejandro has already been involved with many service activities in addition to his demanding school and practice schedule.
In the fall, Alejandro welcomed the opportunity to host two young Hispanic boys from Cesar Chavez elementary as a part of the O Heroes 'Ducklings' program where exceptional youth who have struggled with disease or challenging circumstances are given a day of fun with the Ducks. These two boys had struggled with their behavior and grades but made a turn-around and finally got on the right track, so Alejandro hung out with them, took them on a tour (in Spanish) of the Casanova center and Autzen facilities, and introduced them to some of his teammates.
Then early last month, having known what a great job Alejandro had done with the two boys, the principal of Cesar Chavez Elementary, Denisa Taylor, sought him out specifically to come help celebrate reading with the whole school for Dr. Seuss' birthday. So Alejandro, along with teammates Drew Howell, Bryan Bennett and Eric Solis, went and dressed up as 'Thing I' and 'Thing II' (Alejandro and Howell), the 'Ringmaster' (Bennett) and even the big cat himself, 'Cat in the Hat' (Solis). The 'Things' as characters are very mischievous so the guys played the part by stealing basketballs from the kids and playing monkey in the middle with them, sneaking up on them, chasing them, etc.
"It was a lot of fun," Alejandro said, "the kids really liked it."
When asked why it is important for him to give back and be a part of the community he replied, "It's a different feeling. You're making something positive...hearing the kids laugh is the best. Kids having fun is the way it should be."
"Alejandro is a mentor and a role model to students at César E. Chávez Elementary," said Principal Taylor recently. She continued, "His energy, confidence and playfulness are real and his interactions are authentic. It is obvious that Alejandro cares very much for others and is willing to dedicate his time and energy. Alejandro is a champion to our students and a true Hero to the community."
When asked what really motivates him, Alejandro thought for a moment before saying, "I want to be better. I want to better myself. I can do a lot better. I think football has really influenced me a lot. It becomes a habit to do good and to share good with other people."
In terms of positive male influences, Alejandro didn't have many growing up until he met the afore-mentioned Castellanos, who became in addition to a coach, a mentor. Castellanos says he wasn't surprised to hear that Alejandro is doing so well, "when you see this kid training, when you see this kid in the weight room, when you see him in the community, he's very committed to all of that...so what he's doing up there in Oregon and in the community does not surprise me at all."
So what's next for this rising star? "School and football." He says. He's worked very hard at both and was rewarded with his first few punts last season and a 3.5 GPA last term. "Kate has helped me a lot," he said with a smile, giving a shout-out to his favorite tutor, former UO Lacrosse player Kate Wagner.
"I think my motto is just 'be confident and have fun'" Alejandro said conclusively. Straight-forward, simple and genuine; just how we've come to love him. Thanks for all you've been doing Alejandro, keep up the great work!
Story by: Shelley Deadmond