October 28, 2009

Looking to Give Back

By Charles Moore '10

At the age of five, most kids experience their first day of school or their first professional sports game. Not senior running back Ricky Galvez. At the age of five, Galvez experienced his first shooting, something most adults will never experience in their lifetime. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Galvez witnessed shootings, lived across the street from a crack house, and at the age of six was kicked off his brand new birthday bike and watched as a grown man rode off on it.

“I could tell you story after story,” says Galvez. “They’d all be the same though: shooting this, killing that. I saw things that no child should ever have to see. I remember I would sit out on the sidewalk, playing with my little army men toys, and find little plastic bags to put the toys in. One day my mom came out and saw what I was doing and slapped my hand, telling me never to play with those bags again. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized I had been playing with bags that had contained cocaine.”

And yet despite all the pressures growing up in a terrible neighborhood, Galvez is entering his senior year at Yale, studying mechanical engineering and wanting to develop products for third world countries using their own indigenous materials.

How does someone avoid the pressures of his problematic friends and end up at Yale? The answer, according to Galvez, is a strong inner drive and a desire to give back to a mom, Maria Santiago, who gave up everything for her sons.

“Ricky credits everything to his mom,” says senior Jon Charest, Galvez’s friend and teammate. “She is pretty incredible.”

“I was raised solely by mom,” says Galvez. “She worked all the time. She had very limited education, so she had to work multiple odd jobs. She suffered through a lot of sweat, blood and pain. I couldn’t stand the thought of her suffering that much, only for me to grow up and gangbang or work at the local supermarket.”

That drive to be better is something that has translated onto the football field, according to Yale’s special teams and running back coach Rod Plummer.

“Ricky is just a really determined kid,” says Plummer. “He plays hard; he’s extremely intelligent, and extremely tough. He is the kind of kid who just won’t be denied.”

When it came time to enter high school, Galvez had a tough decision. He could go to public school with all his friends or go to a private Catholic all-boys school. Galvez chose the latter. He worked hard at Cathedral High School, got good grades, and starred on the football team. He led the state of California in rushing for eight weeks and had a front page article written about him in the sports section of the Los Angeles Times. But it was not until late in Galvez’s high school career that he started to think about college.

“I definitely wasn’t raised to go to college,” says Galvez. “My older brother went to state school in California, and I knew I wanted to do something with my life other than stay in South Central. When schools started calling for football, it was an easy decision.”

Galvez and his brother are the first generation of his family to attend college. He talked with UCLA, Penn, Princeton and Yale, but quickly gave up on UCLA, citing a lack of potential for playing time. He then visited Penn and Princeton.

“Princeton was a bit too snobby for me, and I just didn’t like Penn,” says Galvez. “But when I came to Yale, I just loved the people. I loved the diversity and the fact that there were people from all over the world.”

Galvez came to Yale as a freshman during the beginning of the Mike McLeod ’09 era. After playing a year on the JV team, he spent his sophomore and junior seasons as the back-up to McLeod, who holds almost every Yale rushing record. Though Galvez was undersized at 5-foot-7, 175 pounds, he was a change of pace from McLeod.

“It was tough,” says Galvez. “I knew my role though. I would drive defenses crazy. Guys on our team said they hated when I went in because I was like a midget on the field. There were guys a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than me. But I was a change of pace from Mike. I was quicker with more violent cuts. I would dodge defenders, but don’t think I wouldn’t run a linebacker over if I had to.”

Galvez has been running so many people over in practice lately that he should be given the name “boomstick.” Instead, his teammates have dubbed him “boomtwig” because of his size. His big hits have earned him a spot as lead blocker for junior Gio Christodoulou on kickoff returns this year. Coming into this year, it was a toss-up who would be the replacement for McLeod. The coaches are still figuring it out, but Plummer says Galvez has handled the situation well.

“It has been very impressive how Ricky has handled not being the obvious replacement for McLeod,” says Plummer. “When you have a three-year starter who earned all the accolades McLeod did, you aren’t just trying to find a replacement, but you’re figuring out what kind of system you want to run. Do you have one running back? Is it running back by committee? We are still trying to figure that out. But Ricky is a very mature young man. He knows how to crack a joke and he knows when to get serious. He’s handled himself well.”

“Ricky always has a smile on his face,” says Charest. “He is always willing to have a good time no matter what he is doing.”

Galvez wants to use his success to help put smiles on the faces of more kids from South Central. For now, he is thinking about going into technology consulting. He does not necessarily want to become a mechanical engineer, but he wants to remain close to the field. Whatever Galvez ends up doing with his life, he knows that he wants to give back to the community from which he came. Apparently, he already has. While working at the Los Angeles mayor’s office a few summers ago, Galvez was approached by a man in the hallway who said he was the father of a boy who attended Galvez’s high school. The father then said that his son had been coming home with bad grade after bad grade during his freshman year. Then one day he just started coming home with As and Bs. When asked about it, the son simply responded, “I had a talk with Ricky Galvez.”

“That was definitely my proudest moment,” says Galvez. “I still remember talking with the kid. It was one of the last days of class and I saw him sitting on the stairs outside school. I sat down next to him and asked him how his year went. He basically said he’d been screwing up his grades. And I asked him if he loved his mom and if she worked hard for him to go to school. He said yes. So I said ‘Then don’t you want to do better for her?’”

Galvez talks about all the people that helped him along the way and how he wants to do the same for them – especially for kids in his old neighborhood, where it is so easy to fall in with the bad crowd and never leave South Central.

“People just need a nudge over the edge,” says Galvez. “They need someone to kick them in the butt and set them on the right course. I want to do for other kids back home what people did for me.”

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