See What Happens When Drugs & Alcohol Mix With High School Football
“He was very abusive not just verbally, but physically. When my mom would be at work he would beat me with a horsewhip. The same whip that he would use on the thoroughbreds he used to ride.”
Joey Ortiz remembers the harsh beatings he suffered as a boy from his father. By the age of eight he was already getting drunk as a means of escape. “The feeling that it gave me - it lit a fire inside me. I was beat up inside and it would seem to soothe the pain. Although temporary, without a doubt, it definitely, you know, kind of soothed the pain that I had gone through, and that I continued to go through, growing up.”
In his teens, football became an outlet for his aggression and anger. “It gave me this sense of invincibility where I could do no wrong.” He says, “It seemed like everything I did was working out the right way. I found this craving to get better and to make a name for myself and really excel at that.”
Number 81 was a high school football star. But inside Joey was an emotional wreck and an alcoholic. “I was never happy. I would star in a game, or I would make the game winning kick off return or punt return or catch a 70-yard touchdown, but I was not happy. I was miserable I was trying to fill a void with alcohol consumption and smoking weed. I was just trying to fill that hole and I could never fill it. No matter what I did, I would feel good for 30 minutes and then I’d feel miserable.”
After high school he had a chance to play for a major university, but before the season began, his body--and his hopes--were crushed in a hit and run accident. “We were standing on the shoulder of the road and a car came raring down the road, and I didn’t even see it or hear it. You know, probably because I was drunk. But, it hit me with so much force it sent me 75 feet down the road. And I landed in the street, and everyone thought I was dead.”
Joey was life-flighted to the hospital where he was in a coma for three days with life threatening injuries including a bruised brain, broken pelvis and several broken bones. When he finally woke up there was just one thing on his mind. Joey says, “I couldn’t think of anything else other than getting back on the football field, the first words out of my mouth were, ‘when can I get out of the hospital?’ I wanted to get out bad.”
His recovery was remarkable. Just five months after the accident Joey was playing football again at a small college. But was no longer the star athlete he once was. “I was heartbroken and disappointed. I had worked so hard. I learned to walk in a swimming pool and I worked and toiled so hard. And to be relegated to second string really broke my heart.”
The sense of invincibility he had in his youth was gone. For years he covered his emotions with alcohol and lots of cocaine. “I was addicted from the first line I did. It was a relationship of what I thought was love, you know. I thought I’d found this miracle drug and it was just desperation. It was desperation.”
After a near fatal overdose, Joey quit using cocaine but his drinking took him further into hopelessness. “It was bad to begin with. It went off the chart because I had to fill that void of the high. I was trying to replicate it anyway I could. Drinking had taken me down a road of despair and recklessness and jail and hospitalizations and things like that. There was nothing positive about it. It was all bad. But it was just a path that I was on and I was trying to wreck myself and do anything I could to get there. I walked around from 1991 with a 2000 pound yoke on my back because I was beating myself up for getting hit by a car.”
After playing in an alumni football game, one of the coaches invited him to church. All the years of reckless living and self abuse left Joey ready for change. He says, “The days couldn’t click by fast enough for me to get there. I was so ready. And I was eager and I was—my heart was open for the first time ever. I showed up an hour early to church. I sat there and just listened to them. I felt it coming over me. It was coming over me and it’s the highest of all highs and that’s the Holy Spirit. They prayed over me. And I took that 2000 pound weight off my back and gave it to Jesus and let Him deal with it, and it was the greatest day of my life.
As he drove home from church that day, he realized the emptiness he’d felt all his life was finally filled. “I was full because of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Yeah, and I was –I was full—I was just full of their love and compassion and mercy.”
Joey was also set free from his thirty-year long alcohol addiction and has been able to forgive his father. He authored a book about his life and says all his accomplishments and even his failures - are insignificant compared to the new life and hope he has found in Jesus.
“I’m nothing without Him. I’m nothing,” says Joey. “All the things I accomplished, trophies, league this, that, this, you know, all star. All this is nothing. It’s nothing. Through Christ, my success rate is unlimited. I was limited before on what I could do, and we saw what that got me. But now my opportunities are unlimited because He’s Jesus Christ. He’s raised from the dead. He’s the living God. And through Him I can do anything.”