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The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona football season dedicated to ‘One Tough Cat’ Andrew Valdez

Courtesy+of+Victoria+Wells

Courtesy of Victoria Wells

Arizona football will always remember June 20, 2015 as a day of infamy—the day that 19-year-old Andrew Valdez passed away from cystic fibrosis and liver complications. 

For those who are unfamiliar with Valdez’s story, the “One Tough Cat” was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was just months old. Valdez struggled through constant hospital visits and the illness from that point on.

Valdez and his family never had it easy. His mother, Lorita, passed away in 2011. His father cared for him and his brother, with Valdez forced to help out around the house.

Despite these challenges, Valdez felt comfortable with Arizona football players. They became his friends. 

But many never would have predicted how much of an impact he would have on the team and the Wildcat community. 

“He was there every Thurday and Friday practice,” quarterback Anu Solomon said. “If he could make it, he would support us; be out there. His family is in our prayers.”

Valdez would spend long amounts of time after practice speaking with some of his favorite players, such as senior safety Anthony Lopez or junior linebacker Scooby Wright III. 

“Probably when he came for the Lift for Life last summer,” Lopez said when asked about his favorite memory with Valdez. “He had a really great time. He got to see all the guys out there and everybody was loving him, so that was probably my favorite memory with him.”

Lift for Life was an inaugural event to raise awareness for cystic fibrosis in honor of Valdez, raising money for the Southern Arizona Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation through a national nonprofit organization called Uplifting Athletes.

The Wildcats honored their friend, wearing stickers with the initials “AV” on their helmets against UTSA last Thursday. 

But the biggest tribute came just 28 seconds into the game. Lopez intercepted UTSA quarterback Blake Bogenschutz and returned the pass for a 23-yard touchdown on what was the Roadrunners’ first pass of the game.

Lopez wasn’t even expected to play against UTSA and had been tending to a recent injury that forced him to wear a boot the past few weeks. 

When Tellas Jones was suspended for violating team rules, Lopez stepped up to the plate. Was it fate? Probably. But that interception was truly in honor of Andrew Valdez.

“It was definitely for Andrew,” Lopez said after defeating UTSA. “I miss the kid more than anything. This whole game was for him and this whole season is for him.”

Valdez had a whole lot of heart and always preached the message to persevere.

“I hope I can show them not to give up,” Valdez told Paul Cicala and KVOA in January. “I do sometimes compare myself to UA. I don’t want the guys to be put down by a loss. I always want them to keep our head up because even in losses, I’m always a Wildcat fan.”

The remainder of the season is now, and forever will be, dedicated to Valdez.

“Andrew is definitely with us,” Lopez said. “I mean, we had the sticker on the back of our helmets [against UTSA] and [I] was always thinking of him. We always keep in contact with his family as much as we can and he will always be a part of our lives.”


Follow Matt Wall on Twitter.


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