Nineteen years after Tony Ortiz Sr. starred on the gridiron for Waterbury’s Crosby High School and earned the Gatorade State Player of the Year Award in 1994, his son, Tony Jr., is leaving his own mark on the Connecticut football landscape with Gilbert/Northwestern.
“It’s great, Tony is an excellent young man and to be able to watch him grow over the years has been a pleasure for me and our family as well as his family,” said Ortiz Sr., who went on to play linebacker at the University of Nebraska for legendary coach Tom Osborne. “Just to see who he’s become, he has the potential to do great things.”
So far this season Ortiz Jr. has had his way with opposing defensives while rushing for 1,136 yards on the ground to go with, 10 rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns to help lead Gilbert/Northwestern to a 5-1 record.
“He’s definitely much more polished than I was at that age and he’s much smarter in understanding the game than I was at that age,” said Ortiz Sr.
After his college career where he was a part of two National Championship teams, Ortiz Sr. played in a couple NFL training camps, over in NFL Europe and even in the short lived XFL League before moving permanently to Dallas.
Even though the two of them are separated by close to 1,500 miles, the two remain very close staying in contact anyway.
“Living 1,500 miles away you don’t get to have access to your son as much as you like, at least in person. We may have other ways to communicate throughout the day throughout the week, in this day and age with texting or Skyping, its like he’s here, its like you never miss a beat,” said Ortiz Sr.
Ortiz Jr. also makes trips down to Dallas to visit his dad and while visiting both father and son enjoys spending time together, whether it’s watching television or working out together.
“I try to visit every other summer,” said Ortiz Jr. “We do drills, we run a lot to get used to the heat so I’m better conditioned and we do a lot of safety drills, running back drills.”
Even with all of his experience it took time for Ortiz Jr., like most kids, to believe that his parents know best.
“We were doing some specific running back drills where we are holding onto the ball, he was getting frustrated, I will really push him on the drills. Later that night we were watching Hard Knocks, it was Hard Knocks where they were at the Jets camp and it was the beginning and they were showing LaDainian Tomlinson of all backs, a Hall of Fame back, he’s doing the exact same drills him and I were doing outside in the yard. He gave me this look and I told him ‘don’t ever doubt me again,'” Ortiz Sr. said, with a laugh. “As coachable as he was, he had this ‘you sure you know what you’re doing’ look when we were doing it and until he saw Hard Knocks and he never ever again questioned me.”
But most of the time, the younger Ortiz knows his father’s past and knows he is someone that he looks up to.
“I have his junior and senior year highlight tape at Crosby, I saw a few of them just to watch him so I can try and relate my game,” Ortiz Jr. said. “He was really good and he’s really a good person to model after, especially being my father.”
While the younger Ortiz has made a living out of running away from defenders this season, there is one thing that he can’t run away from; comparisons to his dad.
“We get compared a lot, so it’s good as a little motivation. I don’t take it to heart as far as if I don’t do what he did,” said Ortiz Jr. “The coach at Wolcott Tech said he played against my dad and he told me how much I remind him of him.”
Ortiz Sr. knows that his son gets the comparisons and he has always told Ortiz Jr., and his other children, from his current marriage to be their own person.
“I want them to be who they are, if they want to for example wear my number that’s all cool and great. But be your own person, have your own style, have your own way of doing things,” said Ortiz Sr. “I try to pass that information on, especially for Tony because he lives in an area, where for lack of better words ‘the legend is still out there’ so because of some of my accolades that I did in high school and some of the things I did in that area. People still remember that and people still refer to that, since he is a Junior I didn’t want him to feel the pressure of having to perform at a certain level or feel like if he doesn’t do X, Y or Z every game that he is not performing to what everyone expects from him.”
It’s compliments like that, that makes Ortiz Jr. happy he gets the comparisons, but he is going to just play his game.
“It makes me happy he was a good player,” he said. “I love my dad and I’m very proud of him of course, I just try to do what I do. I’m not him so I just try to play the best I can listen to the stuff he gives me and play hard.”