Sam Rayburn quarterback Agustin Velasquez looks downfield -- and looks ahead to his future after overcoming the loss of his family's house to fire the first day of school.
Adversity of August Fails to Sack Sam Rayburn's Velasquez
By AL CARTER
PISD Communications Office
For Agustin Velasquez -- for the entire Velasquez family -- this promises to be a Thanksgiving like none before. Holiday football will be watched in a new den. Thanksgiving dinner will spring from a new kitchen.
Nearly the entire house will be new. Just last week, painters slapped on a new color scheme for the home's new exterior. Velasquez's mom, Magdalena, decided weeks ago that a color change was needed.
She picked light blue. With white trim.
The colors of Sam Rayburn High, where Agustin plays quarterback.
"They gave a lot of support to Agustin," Magdalena Velasquez recalls, still fighting back the tears. "The coaches, the school district, they were very supportive. We have not suffered. Everything is fine."
For Harvey and Magdalena Velasquez -- for Agustin and his two sisters -- this will be a Thanksgiving in the truest sense.
In late August, a fire consumed their home and destroyed almost everything they owned, but no one was hurt. Even the two family dogs, in the backyard when lightning exploded into a treetop and ignited the house, escaped without injury. Ten weeks later, the family has bonded tighter than ever before.
And their new home, raised from the burned out shell of their old home, will be ready for occupancy in just a couple of weeks. Just in time for Thanksgiving.
This Friday night marks another occasion. Agustin will play his final football game. A senior and a three-year starter, he'll lead the Texans' charge against Pasadena High at Veterans Memorial Stadium -- and complete a season that began with an unwelcome bolt from a stormy late-summer sky.
Agustin admits he's grown up a lot in these past 10 weeks. He's thankful for things he never expected to be thinking too much about.
"I've got a really good family," he said as he headed into the film room this week. "My parents support me a lot and my two sisters, they encourage me. I'm blessed to have them."
* * *
It happened on the first day of school. The Texans were preparing to open the season that Friday against Summer Creek in Humble. Told that storms were in the area, Sam Rayburn Coach Chris Bussey decided to practice in the school gym.
When practice ended, Agustin followed his teammates to the locker room and checked his cell phone, which showed two missed calls and two text messages. The first text message was short, simple and shocking.
It said his house was on fire.
"I thought it was some kind of joke or something," he said. "I thought, 'Why would somebody send me a text message like this?'"
Then he called his mom. She was crying. Agustin knew it was true.
She told him to come home, but not to speed.
He sped home.
Lightning had struck a tree in the backyard of the Velasquez home. The energy of the strike blew all the bark off the tree. The upper leaves and branches erupted in flames, which quickly spread to the roof and into the attic.
Harvey and Magdalena were home at the time of the lightning strike.
"The noise," she recalls, "was very bad."
Agustin arrived to find a helicopter hovering over his neighborhood, fire trucks blocking his street and hoses everywhere. He parked alongside an adjacent ditch, hopped a neighbor's fence and met his parents in front of his house, now a smoldering mess.
"I saw him crying," Magdalena says. "I told him, 'Don't worry, Agustin. Everything will be fine.'
"He told me, 'Mom, I'm not crying because of the house. I'm crying because I see how hard you and dad work for what we have and now it is going away.' I realized after that how much he appreciates how hard we work."
About 15 minutes later, Bussey arrived on the scene. Most of his assistant coaches and many of his teammates showed up, too.
The family took a room at a Holiday Inn in Deer Park and later moved into a rent house close to Sam Rayburn. Support from the community was immediate.
With the assistance of Principal Robert Stock, students and staff at Sam Rayburn pitched in for clothes and financial support. The Texans' football booster club provided more of the same. The Pasadena ISD's Communities in Schools program arranged additional assistance.
Bussey mentioned the family's situation to his close friend, Memorial High Coach John Snelson. Just four days after the fire, Snelson called Bussey to tell him the Mavericks' booster club had also raised money for the Velasquez family.
After everything Agustin has done for his school, Bussey said, it was only right that the community give something back.
Says Bussey: "He's been the lifeline of our team."
* * *
Three days after the fire, Velasquez played the best game of his high-school career. Against Summer Creek, he completed 15 of 21 passes for 203 yards and ran for another 78. Three of his passes went for touchdowns. The Texans won 20-14.
"Physically, I tell people he's 5-foot-nothing and weighs one hundred-and-nothing," Bussey says. "But he has leadership. He's not scared, he's very coachable and he's never missed a day of practice. That's what it all comes down to."
Velasquez carries a 4.2 grade average, ranks in the top 15 percent of his class and competes on Sam Rayburn's academic decathlon team. His football career will end Friday when the Texans, bidding to finish with a 5-5 record, wrap up the season against Pasadena.
Velasquez says he's eager to put away the pads and spend more time with preparations for college.
"He needs to focus on what he needs to do to be successful," says sister Evelyn Velasquez, a University of Texas graduate. "He doesn't need to focus on our family's hardship."
"Football is a very physical sport and it takes a lot of out of you," Agustin says. "Right now, I go home, like crash out, go to sleep - it makes it real hard to do homework and study."
Last Saturday, Evelyn drove in from Austin to attend Senior Day at the stadium. Agustin's mom and another older sister, Maggie, were there to see Agustin play his final game at home. Harvey Velasquez, a Vietnam veteran, wasn't able to get away from work.
Agustin, wearing jersey No. 5, was the second one through the senior recognition line.
Bussey was there to give him a hug.
"I love you," Bussey told him.
"That says something about the relationship he has with the coaches at Rayburn," Evelyn said. "Those are very strong words."
Senior Day for the Texans: Velasquez with his sister, Maggie, and nephew Sebastian; mother Magdalena, and sister Evelyn.