Monday, June 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For Roberto Aguayo's father, immigration led to Bucs life

TAMPA — It was only the second day of rookie minicamp, and Bucs placekicker Roberto Aguayo was already growing emotional remembering the time they tore down the goal posts.

Not after one of his winning field goals at Florida State, which won the national championship in the 2013 season. Aguayo finished his career as the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, having never missed from 40 yards or closer. But the memory that still is hauntingly vivid is the demolishing of the H-shaped goal posts that his father built out of PVC pipe in the family's back yard in Lake County, near Orlando.

It was a soccer goal on the bottom, but his father had added field-goal uprights on top. Roberto Jr. started kicking a soccer ball at 3, but by the time he was 8 years old, he was trying American football and began as an offensive lineman. When Aguayo was playing in the Pee Wee division, the coach lined up all the kids to see who could kick an extra point.

"They said whoever can make it is our placekicker," Aguayo said. "I just kicked it, and I made it."

Roberto Aguayo Sr. worked long hours at a tree farm during the day but met the boys, Roberto Jr. and Ricky, at the youth fields at night for football or soccer practice.

"When we were young, he built the goal post for soccer," Aguayo Jr. said. "We had just started playing football, so he said let me make an 'H' so you can play soccer and work on field goals. Those became the first uprights that I would kick footballs through and practice on. I remember the day he took it down. We were already older, and we couldn't kick on it anymore. The ball would just sail into a bunch of trees, and we'd have trouble finding them. But I remember it was a sad day when those goal posts came down. They held a lot of memories."

•••

Back then, the NFL was not something the Aguayos talked about. Instead, Roberto Jr. and Ricky were captivated by the stories of their father's daring and dangerous journey from Mexico across the border into the United States.

Aguayo Sr. was 18 years old when he made his first of three attempts to illegally immigrate to the United States, traveling hundreds of miles to the border. It's a practice that has become a political hot button in the presidential campaign. The first two times he was deported. But on each occasion he grew more determined to leave the family ranch in Capallania, near central Mexico.

Why did he do it?

"To seek a better life," Aguayo Sr. said in a written response to questions from the Tampa Bay Times. "To provide for my parents and my brothers who were younger than I was. And I hoped one day that I would have a better life."

The goal was to send money back home. His father made only $10 per day. Food and clothing were scarce.

"He's told me the stories plenty of times," Aguayo Jr. said. "When I'm back home, I ask him to tell me them again.

"Football is like life. Everything is not always going to go your way. But when you're down or things don't go your way, and it's going to happen because it's sports, you just keep pushing forward, keep pushing at it. Don't feel sorry for yourself. Because some of the stories he's told me, it's crazy. I just play football, and sometimes I feel I didn't do this or I didn't do that. It could be a lot worse. I'm blessed to be here."

Aguayo Jr. can recite stories about the long journey his father had to make to the United States. The second attempt ended after only 10 months when he was deported. Each time, he faced deadly risks.

Not knowing how to swim was a problem for anybody who wanted to cross the Rio Grande, and there were other dangers.

"I jumped on a train from El Paso, Texas, to Los Angeles, Calif.," Aguayo Sr. said. "The temperature was over 100 degrees (inside) and I felt like dying. But I made it to California. God gave me another opportunity."

•••

On his third attempt in 1986, Aguayo Sr. made it. Traveling with a group of migrant workers who followed the crops, he picked strawberries in Florida in February and cucumbers in Ohio in May. That same year, under President Ronald Reagan, the United States passed the Immigration Reform and Control act that gave illegal workers in agriculture or living in this country a way to become permanent citizens. Aguayo Sr. became a U.S. citizen in 2004.

"Crossing was the hardest part and just being over here and knowing at any second he could be sent back," Aguayo Jr. said of his father. "It's that constant having to look over your shoulder. Obviously, he came here to make a better life. He was sending money back to his family because over there, you don't get paid very much.

"He just wanted to get on the train and have a better life. Had he stayed there (in Mexico), it would just be another generation with nothing. There were a lot of times where they would be running out of food, and there was one time where he had to literally beg for money. He said, 'I couldn't see myself ever doing this.' "

•••

Aguayo Sr. was introduced to his wife, a Mexican-American named Martina, by his cousin at the tree farm where he worked near Orlando, not far from the one he manages today in Central Florida. "My dad is very shy," Aguayo Jr. said. "He didn't want to meet her at first."

Aguayo Sr. instilled in his sons, at an early age, how to work hard and achieve.

"To have credibility among yourself and that when you set your mind to something, you can do it," Aguayo Sr. said of those early lessons. "I also wanted them to have a lot of willpower and one day they can become campeones (champions)."

Ricky is a freshman kicker at Florida State. He isn't afraid of trying to fill the large kicking shoe left by his brother, who was 21-of-22 in field goals and made all 94 extra points in his first year on the Seminoles' national championship team. The next year he missed only three kicks.

Overall, Aguayo Jr. only missed nine of his 78 field goals (88.5 percent), with five of those coming last season, including a block by Georgia Tech that was returned for a winning touchdown as time expired.

Because of Aguayo Jr.'s accuracy and skill at pinning opponents near their goal line on kickoffs, the Bucs shocked some draft pundits April 29 by trading up to select him in the second round.

Aguayo Sr. wept.

"When the big moment arrived that my son Roberto received a call from Tampa Bay, I felt such joy and happiness that I cried," Aguayo Sr. said. "Thoughts were going through my mind that what we set out to do so back then were giving us great results today."

So then, do you really think Roberto Aguayo Jr. feels pressure when he lines up to kick a field goal? Pressure to fulfill his lofty draft status or pressure to quiet the critics?

"The stories my dad tells are so sad I start to tear up," Aguayo Jr. said. "He's here and he's always telling us, 'God gave your mother and me a blessing with these two boys.' Well, I'm here in the NFL now living my dream, and that's what motivates me."

Listen to Rick Stroud from 6-9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. Contact [email protected]. Follow @NFLStroud.

     
 
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