How Longtime Randolph-Macon football coach overcame personal struggles to help his players do the same

Posted at 5:20 PM, Aug 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-24 14:16:00-04

Ashland, VA. - Almost as much of an Ashland fixture as train crossings and truck stops, Pedro Arruza is entering his 16th season as head coach at Randolph-Macon.

As he gets older, his players keep him young, and are the main reason he's in no hurry to change his address.

"Honestly, the best part about coaching here are the players that I`ve been able to coach" Arruza said.  "I think we are able to recruit some fantastic young men. They`re great to work with and they really care about football"

Born in Madrid, Arruza also lived in England and Mexico before moving to the States in elementary school.

"I can barely speak Spanish now even though when I moved here, I could barely speak any English" Arruza joked.

And if his mother had had her way, his football career never would have happened. But his begging eventually wore her down.

"She not being an American and not being very familiar with football just saw it as another dangerous thing that her kids were going to get involved in. That opportunity to play football had a huge impact on my life."

Arruza strives every day to pay that impact forward with the players on each year's roster. Wins and losses at times take a back seat to what Arruza believes to be the true mission of his work.

"To make sure that every young man that comes here gets a great education, gets a tremendous experience playing football but that he can leave here after four years and say, you know what? That program really changed my life. I`m a better husband, I`m a better father, I`m a better human being because I was a part of that football program."

"He told me that if I came here I would grow as a man" said RMC Junior defensive back Anthony Williams.  "And that`s one of the things that was on my checklist for the schools that I was looking at. I wanted to make sure it wasn`t just about football but it would be an experience where I would be a better man and a lot more mature."

Arruza keeps a 24 hour open door policy with each of his players. Many take him up on the offer to talk about not only football, but anything else life throws their way.

"I`ve been in there and had really difficult conversations" said Jackets senior quarterback Burke Estes.  "He`d help me get through times in my life where I was kind of struggling."

"He`s been through so much in his life, I know that he would understand and he can put himself in my shoes" Williams added.

Arruza knows what it's like to struggle.

His father commited suicide when Pedro was just 7 years old. As the oldest of four boys, he became the premature man of the family.

He had many questions, and did not get a lot of answers.

"It was my normal" Arruza explained.  "At that age, it was not something that you really thought too much about. You lose your dad, what do you do? You go to school the next day and you try to figure things out."

By the time he hit middle school, Arruza was teetering on the brink of dedication and deliquency.

"I had a ton of chances to go sideways It was pretty obvious that my life was going sideways."

It was his middle school football coach that first saw potential, and more importantly, told Arruza as much.

"One day after practice, he grabbed me and said 'You know what? I see a lot in you and I think one day, you`re going to be a college football player' and that planted a seed for me. "

That was enough to set Arruza straight. While he briefly considered law school, he wanted a career where he knew he would be happy. And one where he could be the inspiration for other players like his first coach was for him.

"Every job has a shelf life, every profession has a shelf life" Arruza said.  "At some point, I`m going to retire and be able to look back on our career. For me, what I`m going to look back on is the relationships and the impact that the program had on the guys that were a part of this program. "

"If we`re not changing lives and if we`re not trying to impact the guys that come through this program then what are we doing?"

Arruza's Yellow Jackets are the defending ODAC champions. Unfortunately, his mother passed away back in 2008, just after his first ODAC championship victory. She did have a chance to see the success her oldest boy had become in a sport she never wanted him to play.

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