Thursday, May 24, 2007

Oscar Sauceda remembered

I remember the first time I met Oscar Sauceda Jr.

It was about three years ago and he was working at the concession stand at Jett Bowl Del Rio. He was still in high school and was working part-time to earn some spending money.

We talked about his football career and what he hoped to accomplish when high school ended.

As a running back for the Del Rio High School Rams, Sauceda was big, strong and fast. He wasn’t flashy. He simply put his head down and barreled through the defense when his name was called. If he was called on to block, guaranteed that the target of his aggression would not soon forget who Sauceda was.

I saw him next at the American G.I. Forum, accepting a scholarship. He was walking with a limp and I asked him what happened. He said he had hit a sprinkler head with his knee and done what he thought was minor damage. He also said that the injury would prevent him from leaving for college right away and that he would stay in Del Rio, at least through the next year.

I offered him a job as an assistant sports writer. I was the city editor at the time, but I knew Bill Jewell, the sports editor at the time, was looking for someone to help him. Oscar knew sports and was outgoing, but he was unsure if the job was right for him. I told him to think about it and to come by the office and talk whenever he had the chance.

The next time I saw him he was playing flag football in the city’s adult flag football league. He told me that he had decided to join the Army because they said he would be able to play football for them. It was what he wanted more than anything else – the chance to play competitively one more time.

I called him crazy, but wished him the best of luck.

My next memory of Oscar is of him walking towards me at Plaza del Sol Mall. He was dressed in his camouflage fatigues and though he was thinner, and he had less hair on his head (thanks to the military’s barber), and he looked like some imposing military figure, his smile betrayed him as the same fun-loving guys he always was.

I joked with him that the new camo pattern did little to hide him from my sight. He laughed, asked how things at the paper were, and then told me his knee had never felt better and he was ready to resume life on the gridiron.

Again I wished him well and told him I was proud of him. He shook my hand and then was off. I figured the next time I would see him he would be playing in the traditional Army/Navy game.

The next I saw him was in pictures. Pictures on the wall, pictures on a green piece of poster board, pictures printed off a computer on a piece of paper. He was smiling in all of them.

But the people showing me the photos were having difficulty maintaining a smile.

We were gathered at his mother Sandra Hernandez’s home. Hours earlier, Sandra, a wonderful woman who doted on Oscar as if he was still a baby, despite his large stature, was told by Army officials that her son had been killed in a firefight in Baghdad.

When I first walked into their small home, Sandra thanked me for visiting. She held my hand with both her hands and, through tears, told me how her son spoke highly of me.

When I reminded her that I had wanted him to come work with me, she told me what he had told her in regards to the offer.

“‘Mom, Brian writes about everything. What would I write about?’,” she said Oscar told her.

Speaking to her, and to the people who knew him best, I learned more about the young man who was better known as “J.R.”

He was unafraid to try anything, but football was his first love. He played for as long as he could carry a football. He was an alum of the Amistad Pee Wee Football League, and then played out his days as a Ram.

“He loved his sports. He loved his Rams more than anything,” Sandra said.

Oscar’s father was a boxer, so he tried his hand at that. He fought one time, as part of the Doc Calderon Boxing Club, but his trainers admitted that though he was an athlete, he didn’t have the heart to be a boxer.

If I had to guess, I would say he was probably too nice.

Oscar was also dedicated to his church, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, and loved his ties to Living Stone Worship Center. His mother said that she was comforted to know that when he passed from this world, he did so with a strong faith and an unwavering belief in the Lord.

Above all, Oscar loved his family. He loved his mother, his stepfather Richard, his sisters DaeLamor and Precious and his little brother Ricky. It was the love that family shared that will get them through this difficult time and will allow them to never forget who Oscar was.

“He made sure he was a positive role model for Ricky,” Sandra said.

When Tuesday’s candlelight vigil for Oscar began, it was said he was called to Heaven because God needed a warrior.

If you knew Oscar, you know The Lord found that and a whole lot more.

From the Del Rio News Herald

Related Link:
Oscar Sauceda Jr. dies of 'wounds suffered when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using small arms fire'