Coyote still playing, representing Madera
For The Madera Tribune
After his time at with the Madera Coyotes, quarterback Vincent Espinoza has found his way through the college ranks and is now the quarterback for the Spokane Shock, a team in the Indoor Football League.
“Madera is my city and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.”
— Vincent Espinoza
Vincent Espinoza’s story isn’t full of rainbows and sunshine. In fact, Espinoza has been overcoming challenge after challenge to get where he is today.
Espinoza, almost 10 years removed from his days at Madera, is now a professional quarterback for the Spokane (Washington) Shock, members of the Indoor Football League.
“I am blessed to be here and to be able to continue the game that I love,” Espinoza said.
Espinoza first picked up a football as a boy, but the former Coyote was more than a football player. Basketball, baseball, soccer, Espinoza was able to play anything he wanted.
As a pure athlete combined with an unshakeable mentality, Espinoza soon realized his potential as he got older.
“The only thing I remember was that I was one of the smallest on the team and that was the case a lot of times, but I remember the first play in Pee Wee football I lined up as a receiver and ran a reverse,” Espinoza said. “I remember running a reverse and scoring a touchdown without being touched. That’s when coaches really took notice in me, they really saw my speed and my energy.”
Since then, Espinoza is continuously reminded of that story by his mom, who along with his stepdad, have been his biggest supporters through his young career.
“Nobody knew what I could do in that moment, but my mom did,” he said.
Espinoza continued to hone his skills through multiple sports while growing up in Madera. When Espinoza reminisces of the past, it’s his buddies from Madera he thinks of. It is the memories shared within his community and, maybe most importantly, the wins he earned on the field.
“When I played football at Madera High, I was playing multiple positions. I was an athlete and able to do a lot of different things, but I was never just primarily a quarterback. My senior season, I played receiver and I didn’t have a big year or a lot of people looking out for my name,” Espinoza said.
After his high school career ended in 2012, it was the next step that Espinoza was interested in. But he wasn’t sure if enrolling in college was going to be it.
Espinoza had doubts about the weightlifting and the overall strength required to undertake a possible Division I spot.
But, after high school, Espinoza did was natural — he kept playing football.
“I was fully invested in football. I wasn’t playing other sports, I stopped skateboarding by the 11th grade and I was committed to the game. I was playing every weekend, just flag football and pick up games, anything I could,” Espinoza said.
At that time, he wasn’t sure how to go about it. Is this something fun to do on the weekends or can I make a living out of this was a process that Espinoza had to go through.
With the help form his uncle and coach “Frogger” (Alfonso Cuevas), Espinoza was finally able to come to terms with his future.
“He told me to play semi-pro and he got me into it. It’s pretty much adult football,” he said.
For the next three years, Espinoza tried his hand at semi-pro football and he excelled in 2013.
His homes games were held at Madera High.
“I had a great team that taught me a lot of things and I got a chance to learn from others. I was the quarterback and I felt good throwing the ball and just becoming a better quarterback,” he said.
In 2014, things clicked and Espinoza really took off, both as a player and man.
With his son being born and his skills on the field improving, Espinoza wanted to take things to another level.
“When my son was born, it lit a fire in me that I felt like I could do anything. I felt invincible,” he said.
After three years, Espinoza attended Merced College and immediately redshirted.
He wanted to get out of his comfort zone and when he was able to play, he wanted to be ready.
A year later, in the spring of 2015, Espinoza returned to be a starter on his semi-pro team before signing with West Hills College-Coalinga in the fall.
Espinoza was averaging almost five touchdown passes a game in semi-pro ball. After years of tutelage and experience, he was ready for his chance at West Hills.
His first year, West Hills won a conference championship and from then on Espinoza knew his future relied in the pocket.
“It felt good to see everything come together and playing against tough competition really made me feel good as a player,” Espinoza said. “After playing with grown men all those years, it just seemed like things were easier.”
Things changed quickly as Espinoza sustained a separated shoulder in his throwing shoulder and there were doubts he could throw a ball again.
True to his nature, Espinoza never let up and never gave in.
His stepdad Mike Ocampo knows firsthand.
“That’s just who he is. He isn’t afraid of any challenge and he always does his best, not just for himself, but for his kids, too. We’ve seen it his whole life, facing adversity and moving past it,” Ocampo said.
Espinoza was put into a panic, but rehab went well and, in 2016, Espinoza led his team to a Conference Championship, as well as a bowl game.
He became the first quarterback to accomplish that feat in a West Hills jersey. Not too mention leading the league in completions.
Espinoza later moved to HBCU Lincoln University 2017-18 where he continued to excel.
“They wanted someone to change the program and I wanted that challenge,” Espinoza said.
Despite a tough start, multiple coaching changes and a medical emergency, the former Coyote was still standing tall.
In his final season, Espinoza was in the top three in the league of all major passing categories and Espinoza nearly broke the league’s single game passing record. To top it all off, Lincoln won their homecoming game for the first time in recent memory.
Espinoza was invited to a bowl game for all potential NFL draft picks. Getting to play in that game in front of scouts, was a big deal. Even though he was sick, Espinoza played well and was named MVP of that game.
Espinoza’s rise is no joke.
The former Madera Coyote, now playing professional football for the Spokane Shock, is not afraid of the challenges he faces, he embraces it.
Even to this day, Espinoza visits his hometown, to not only see his family, but also to give back to the younger players. Espinoza is always working out with younger players.
“He is always playing catch and offering kids here advice,” Ocampo said. “We are very proud of the player and man he has become. He is a role model for many.”