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Pain is gain for Indiana State signee Ortiz

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Pain is gain for Indiana State signee Ortiz

Former Manteca High standout Nick Ortiz signed to play for Indiana State University on a full-ride scholarship last week.

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POSTED May 18, 2013 2:13 a.m.

That too-skinny and too-slow Nick Ortiz you used to know is now an NCAA Division I scholarship athlete.

Fueled by doubters and his passion for football, the 2008 Manteca High graduate overcame insurmountable odds to realize a lifelong dream. Last week, he was offered a full-ride scholarship by Indiana State and made it official by signing on May 9.

“I’m so blessed,” Ortiz said. “It’s been a long road and a lot of people have tried to bring me down. That’s the thing, I never gave up. I’m a football player. That’s never going to leave my blood.”

Ortiz was a starting inside linebacker for Manteca’s 2006 squad that went 13-0 and earned Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section championships. He led the team to a 10-2 finish his senior year.

Despite his productive prep career, Ortiz was hardly recruited out of high school partly because of his slender frame. Injuries further stymied the now 23-year-old who now stands 6 feet, 2 inches and 220 pounds.

He started out in the JUCO ranks, first with San Francisco City College.  The hotbed for next-level talent served as a two-year pit stop for Nigel Malone, a one-time rival of Ortiz’s at Sierra High. Malone went on to play for nationally ranked Kansas State and recently signed with the Indianapolis Colts as a rookie free agent.

“I wanted to go to the best junior college in the nation,” Ortiz said. “A lot of people thought I couldn’t do it.”

Ortiz initially grey shirted, and the following year earned a starting spot as an inside linebacker after impressing coaches enough with his fearlessness and instincts.

“I gained my respect over there,” he said.

His stay didn’t last long. Ortiz suffered a concussion while making a tackle in his second start, and he sustained another a week later.  Ortiz redshirted the rest of the season.

He transferred to Foothill of Los Altos Hills and earned a starting position right away. He led the 5-5 Owls with 69 tackles and was named to the all-NorCal Conference first team defense. But in the last game of the 2011 season, Ortiz “heard a pop” as he injured his right ankle. He played through the injury and unknowingly began offseason workouts with bone chips and torn ligaments.

“I didn’t get surgery until 2 ½ months before my sophomore season, and I played every single game,” Ortiz said. “I don’t know how I did it, honestly, but that’s the type of player I am. I’ve played through almost every type of injury. When I was 12 years old I played three games limping. I finally got x-rays and we found out I was playing on broken leg.”

He ignored the soreness and racked up 51 tackles as Foothill went 3-7 last fall. A pedestrian year compared to 2011 for Ortiz and the Owls, but it would not be his last.

And he has an old Foothill teammate to thank. Nose tackle Russell Jones played for Indiana State last season and promised Ortiz that they’d be reunited on the football field.

“He told me that when I was done with my sophomore year he’s going to tell his coach about me because he wants me there,” Ortiz said. “He said he never played with anybody who plays as hard as I do.

“If it wasn’t for him, Indiana State wouldn’t even look at me.”

Ortiz, of course, deserves a lot of the credit. He did his own convincing with his highlight reel and enthusiasm. In a phone conversation with Sycamores head coach Mike Sanford, Ortiz guaranteed that one of the two starting linebacker spots vacated by seniors will be his.

“He really liked that,” Ortiz said. “And before I knew it I had a full-ride scholarship.”

Ortiz visited the campus in Terre Haute, Ind., where NBA great Larry Bird once roamed, on Thursday and met with Sanford. Indiana State went 7-4 last season and 5-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Ortiz said Weber State, San Jose State, Midwestern State, Humboldt State and Angelo State were among the other schools that expressed interest, with several offers coming from Division II programs.

He can finally join the likes of Malone and fellow 2008 Manteca High alum Beau Fryer in the NCAA Division I ranks. Fryer went on to play at Delta College and finished up his playing career at Fresno State.

“I’m so happy for those guys and I still talk to them a lot,” Ortiz said. “They’re both real good guys who came a long way and earned what they got.

“As for me I knew I could do it — I believe in myself and my abilities. Everybody’s got a different path in life. Mine was a little bumpy but it worked out in the end.”

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