Hector Valencia is a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, football coach and mentor to at-risk youth.
Hector Valencia Jr. was raised in White Center and the Rainier Valley. His parents are immigrants from Mexico who came to the United States in search of a better life for their family. Hector is the oldest of five siblings–two of which are also Evergreen grads.
Hector’s passion for football started when he was very young. He remembers watching kids play football at Rainier Beach High School when he was 4 years old, and seeing Joe Montana and Jerry Rice play on TV at the height of their careers.
When Hector entered middle school (at Cascade), he and his brother Cesar ’00 wanted to play football, after all those years of watching. They went to the library and figured out where they could sign up to play. The first two weeks consisted of two-a-day practices beginning early in the day and because both their parents worked, Hector and Cesar rode their bikes and carried their gear all the way from White Center to Highline High School for those first weeks to play for the Burien Bearcats.
At Evergreen, Hector played football all four years. During his senior year, he was voted one of the captains of the football team and also played wrestling and soccer. Hector said that he wasn’t very confident in his abilities on the football field, but believed he had a work ethic and determination that inspired others. He was a leader by example, and was voted “most inspirational” in all three sports.
But by his senior year, Hector had not done anything to prepare for college. His parents had a primary education and were not able to provide much support in that area. When mulling over his options after graduation, Hector said, “All throughout high school, I worked, played sports, did homework and went to school.” Growing up, Hector remembers wanting to be an astronaut or joining the military when he got older. The summer before his senior year, he and some friends met with a recruiter, and by fall he had signed up with the United States Marine Corps.
Hector said that joining the Marines was “one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.” He explained that the experiences he’s had and the friendships he’s made will last him a lifetime. But more importantly, Hector’s military experience made him realize that he loves working with 18-22 year olds. He said that those years are an important transition point in people’s lives, and the experiences you have and the bonds you create during those four years will stay with you for the rest of your life. “At 18, you’re still a kid, but everything you experience during that time transforms you into the man or woman that you become,” he said.
Hector served in the United States Marine Corps for four years, and received meritorious promotions to the rank of Corporal (E-4) and Sergeant (E-5). He was deployed twice, and assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment where he participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom as the Non Commissioned Officer In Charge of communications for his platoon.
After the Marine Corps, Hector returned to Seattle where he enrolled in classes at Bellevue College and started a career in carpentry. But in 2007, he fell off some scaffolding and suffered a traumatic brain injury. His family and friends didn’t know if he was ever going to wake up. And just weeks before, Hector had gone on a first date with the woman who would eventually become his wife, Mariela Salcedo-Valencia.
Hector woke up from his medically induced coma after three weeks, but he wanted to get out of the hospital as soon as possible. He said that he realized his cousin’s wedding was coming up soon and after several weeks of intensive therapy and rehab, Hector was out of the hospital and dancing at her wedding.
The road to recovery was difficult, but Hector told himself that he had to get better. Physical therapy was one thing, but Hector said that he also “needed therapy for his brain.” So he re-enrolled in classes at Bellevue College. Hector couldn’t drive anymore so he took the bus, and earned enough credits to transfer to the University of Washington Bothell.
A lifelong Huskies fan, upon admission Hector went down to the UW Seattle campus to see if he could get involved with the football team. As a UW student, Hector worked as an equipment manager for offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto. While there, he also worked with Senio Kelemete ’08 (who he described as a “really humble guy”) and helped coach the team that ended up going to the 2011 Alamo Bowl.
In 2012, Hector called up his Evergreen classmate Lele Te’o ’99 to volunteer as an offensive line coach at Juanita High School. He wanted to be a mentor and positive role model to students, while also helping to develop leadership capabilities in student-athletes. Hector’s experiences at UW and Juanita made him realize that he loved coaching, and he hopes to coach college football someday to work with and inspire 18-22 year olds.
Hector graduated from the University of Washington in 2012 with a BA in Society, Ethics, and Human Behavior. He said one of his favorite classes was Risk & Resilience, which examined the “X” factor between two individuals who grow up in the same at-risk environment yet one develops into a normal functioning human being (resilience) while the other does not.
In 2014, Hector became that “X” factor as a mentor to at-risk students through an organization called Community for Youth. He said what drew him to the organization was that it worked with South Seattle schools specifically: Cleveland, Rainier Beach, Franklin, Chief Sealth. “I know the needs of those kids,” Hector said, reflecting on his experience growing up in the Rainier Valley. “They need great role models.”
Hector says working with youth comes naturally as the oldest of five siblings–growing up, he had to be a role model. As a mentor, Hector provides one-on-one mentoring to high school students who are struggling–with school, with family, with their direction in life–and helps them become young adults with confidence, determination and self-awareness. Hector attributes his success as a mentor to his openness to all youth and his ability to make kids feel comfortable in their own skin.
In September 2014, Hector was honored as Community for Youth‘s Mentor of the Year.