LARAMIE – Alonzo Velazquez spent his freshman year at Parker High in Janesville, Wisconsin, on the sidelines.
He had played sports before, but didn’t plan on playing any in high school. His friends were sure he could help the Vikings – especially on the football field – and were determined to get him in a uniform as a sophomore.
Velazquez didn’t decide to give football chance until he was approached by a Parker coach over the summer.
“I didn’t know much of what I was doing that first year, and I wasn’t that strong,” Velazquez said, “but I loved it.”
Velazquez was a wide receiver and tight end during his first season, but moved to left tackle before his junior campaign.
“It had nothing to do with his inability to catch the football. That wasn’t a problem at all, because he is a great athlete,” Parker coach Clayton Kreger said. “We had a need at left tackle, and we knew (Velazquez) had the size and frame for it, and probably wasn’t done growing.
“I don’t think he was happy about the move right away, but, obviously, it worked out for the best.”
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Velazquez blossomed into a three-star recruit and signed with the University of Wyoming. The junior has started every game he has been healthy for with the Cowboys.
A balky right knee is expected to keep Velazquez off the field when UW (4-2 overall, 1-1 Mountain West) hosts New Mexico (2-4, 0-2) at 1 p.m. today.
“I was always one of the bigger kids growing up,” Velazquez said. “I was a chubby kid, so I was playing the offensive and defensive lines. I loved defense, but I didn’t like O-line.
“When I moved to O-line in high school, I could just bury people. That’s when I started to love it and realized I had the potential to be a decent player.”
Velazquez was more than decent. He has been utterly dominant in the 20 games he has played for UW.
Prior to the Cowboys’ Sept. 14 game with Idaho, Pro Football Focus College tweeted a graphic that Velazquez hadn’t given up a sack, quarterback hit or hurry.
Velazquez took to the offensive line quickly, but also took extra time to learn the finer points of the position, Kreger said.
“He worked hard to learn techniques, he went to some camps, and he watched a lot of film to figure out what we wanted from him,” the coach said. “He is a smart kid, and he truly understood it after a couple months. Once he learned it, it was off to the races.”
The athleticism that helped Velazquez play receiver and tight end during his sophomore year of high school, help him as an offensive lineman, UW redshirt sophomore guard Patrick Arnold said.
“He moves his body in ways a lot of guys can’t,” the Gretna, Nebraska, product said. “His pass setting is flawless. I’m looking at it like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty impressive.’ For him to have had as many injuries as he has had and still function is no small feat.
“He is going to make some NFL team pretty happy with their pick some day.”
Injuries have been Velazquez’s arch nemesis during his time in Laramie.
A knee injury kept Velazquez off the field for three games in the middle of his true freshman campaign. Last fall, Velazquez missed UW’s final seven games after having microfracture surgery on his left knee. That injury kept him on crutches for nearly two months, and forced him to miss the Cowboys’ spring drills.
Velazquez was a full participant for fall camp, and showed first-year UW offensive line coach Bart Miller why he has been entrenched as the starter since arriving on campus.
“He is athletic and has the mentality and desire to be great,” Miller said. “He looks hungry and was building confidence throughout camp.
“This is such a mental game. Having that renewed spirit this fall has helped him. He is a physical kid, a smart kid and really wants to play his best for his teammates.”
Velazquez is universally loved by his peers, who describe him as funny, playful and passionate about football.
“Whenever we’re in a hard drill or something, he brings the fun and joy to it,” sophomore center Keegan Cryder said. “He comes in with a big smile, and is always encouraging. It doesn’t matter if it’s period 24 in practice and we’ve been getting beaten up the entire practice, he is still smiling and having fun.
“You see how much he is enjoying playing football, and you can’t help but enjoy it, too.”
Arnold describes Velazquez’s approach to football as business-like, but quickly points out that Velazquez also keeps the mood light during meetings with a twisted and self-deprecating sense of humor.
“There aren’t a lot of boundaries with his sense of humor,” Arnold said with a laugh. “He does some things other guys might not do, and he isn’t afraid to make himself the butt of the joke. As an offensive lineman, you have to have thick skin and be able to laugh at yourself.”
Velazquez’s playful side comes out during locker room wrestling matches, junior right guard Logan Harris said.
“Sometimes he gets a little too wound up and forgets how strong and explosive he is, and he throws guys across the room,” the Torrington product said. “He is a really strong dude. I don’t think he intentionally does it but, sometimes, I think he does it just to show you, ‘Yeah, I can do that. Don’t mess around with me.’”
Kreger describes Velazquez as mature for his age.
“When he first wanted to play football, he had to take care of his sister while his parents worked,” he said. “He made arrangements to take care of his sister while he was lifting weights or at practice, and he also held a job.
“He does everything he can to help other people. He is just a phenomenal kid, and that’s why he is successful.”
How does a high-schooler who never planned on playing football fall head over heels for it, and end up becoming awfully good that the sport?
“It gave me an identity,” Velazquez said. “I realized this is who I am and what I want to be. I found the extra drive to play for my family, play for my teammates and be the best I can.
“I’m a competitor, so I’m not just going to play the sport just to play it. I want to be the best I can at it. That pushed me to this level.”
Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.