Cal Poly

This former Cal Poly football player died in Iraq. Now a scholarship honors his memory

The story of Osbaldo Orozco is one of perseverance and tragedy.

The son of Mexican farm workers who settled in the San Joaquin Valley, Orozco grew up in the tiny town of Earlimart and eventually earned a football scholarship to Cal Poly and became one of the best linebackers to ever wear a Mustangs jersey.

After becoming the first member of his family to graduate from college in 2001, he enlisted as an officer in the Army. In 2003, he was killed when his vehicle rolled over as his unit sped to back up fellow soldiers who were under attack. He was 26 years old.

Five former Cal Poly football players, four of which were teammates, didn’t want his memory to stop there, so Tom Vorhees, Brett Sagaser, Jon Peck, Jonathan Trotter and Gary Gatiss decided to support a full athletic scholarship annually named in honor of Orozco. The goal was to award the scholarship to someone who attended high school in the Central Valley, just like Orozco. On Wednesday, Bakersfield High School’s Caden Ochoa became the first recipient of the Osbaldo Orozco Scholarship when he signed a letter of intent to play football at Cal Poly next fall.

“Osbaldo Orozco was a leader, an integral part of our defense, and someone that bled green and gold,” Sagaser said. “When he made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, it was always our goal to honor his memory in some way.”

Orozco attended Delano High School and played at Cal Poly from 1995-99, recording 300 tackles as a linebacker — the seventh most in Cal Poly history. His teammates named him linebacker of the year in 1998 and most inspirational player in 1999.

“If I am Caden Ochoa, I am feeling pretty special right now to be the first recipient of that scholarship,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said during a signing-day press conference, flanked by two mannequins wearing Orozco’s No. 45.

Walsh said he has a lot of respect for the sacrifice made by Orozco, even more so because his son also served in the military and saw action in the Middle East.

“His teammates have never forgotten him, and Cal Poly football will never forget him,” Walsh said.

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