Wilsonville's Salazar ready for the next level
Wilsonville—The final football game of Fernando Salazar's career did not end the way he would have liked, but it by no means diminished the journey that Wilsonville's big man has undertaken.
At the Les Schwab Bowl, two squads composed of the best players from the 6A and 5A levels squared off, North versus South. The North team ended up getting the W 24-7 when the dust settled. Salazar was on the South team, but did not take the loss too hard.
"I'm competitive when it comes to wins and losses, but it was an all-star game, so at the end of the day that loss didn't really matter to me," Salazar said. "I'm just thankful and blessed to be able to play in the Les Schwab Game. I got the opportunity to play with the best in the state and am looking forward to the next chapter of playing down at Western (Oregon University)."
Salazar began participating in the game of football in the sixth grade, a few years later than some of his high school contemporaries. It by no means diminished the level of play he was capable of. After three years of middle school football, Salazar joined the high school program. As a starting guard for the Wildcats playoff squad his sophomore year, Salazar had secured a place on the starting squad in the upcoming years.
As a junior, he and the football team fought all the way to the state championship game, where they were ultimately thwarted by Lebanon 34-17. His senior year, Salazar and the team would get revenge, besting the Warriors in the quarter finals of the state tournament. Though he never managed to nab the gold with his team in their time together, Salazar built long lasting friendships with his teammates.
Through it all, there was always a pressure to keep getting better, to keep growing as an athlete. Salazar assumed it so his team could continue to perform at its best.
"The only pressure I felt was on myself, not on the team as a whole," Salazar said. "I feel like the team overall was perfect the way they stood. We had the line, we had the skill players, and we had the quarterback. The way I performed every game, the way I slept every night, the way I watched my film, the way I hit the weight room. The only pressure I felt was if you want to go get something, go get it. It's on you, it's not on anyone else."
As a participant in the Les Schwab Bowl, he built relationships with his future teammates at Western Oregon. Another part of the week was interacting and connecting with the children at St. Mary's Home for Boys.
"We ran them through drills," Salazar said. "Catching, punting, agility, and we had a blast with the kids. We played with them, had lunch with them, and got to get connected with the kids. Talked with them about their favorite movies, colleges, what they wanted to do outside of school. What were their hopes and dreams? Some of those kids were able to come to the game on Saturday to watch, so that was pretty neat."
Salazar will participate with the Western Oregon Wolves in the fall, and in doing so he sets a personal record. Salazar will be the first in his family to head off to school to pursue a post-secondary education.
At Western Oregon, Salazar will reprise his role of center on the offensive line. While he is competing on a high level and the largest stage yet, he isn't going to put a definite goal or limit on how far this sport will take him. Part of it lies in his worry about the damage to his body he's seen at the highest level.
"When I was little, I had hopes and dreams to make it pro," Salazar said. "But with all these CAT scans coming back of these NFL players being hurt, and all these knee problems, to be honest, I'm just taking it one year at a time and see where it takes me from there. I'm trying to not focus on the big picture too much. Once you start aiming too high, something bad can happen. Hopefully, if I have the skill and time, I'll take my opportunity."
Regardless, over the past several years Salazar has learned a number of lessons about himself, including knowing that he can push himself. It's that drive to succeed and support his team that brought him to the top spot. It also didn't hurt that he carried a few chips on his shoulder. According to Salazar, having people say that if he were taller, 6 feet, 5 inches instead of 6 feet, 1 inch, he would be going farther.
"My height is definitely one of the ways I fuel myself, and the way I play is another way," Salazar said. "There's not many Hispanics you see playing the game, so that's another big step for me. I'm out there showing that it's not just Pacific Islanders or those big white kids on the line, or African Americans. There's a lot of kids that can be a lot on the field, and can go far."
Salazar may not have even given it a shot had it not been for his friend and future college roommate Taran Floyd and his family. After being introduced to the sport, there was no going back.
"I fell in love with the sport, and since my parents always worked full time, they would be my transportation to and from," Salazar said. "Then high school came, and I lived right across the street from the high school, transportation wasn't going to be a big deal. My parents were fine if I was busy. It kept me off the streets, kept me out of trouble, and then I just realized I love the sport. I had potential, and I just want to ride it out and see where it takes me."