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Journal Prep Athlete of the Year: Numbers that are hard to believe

SANTA FE, N.M. — For those in attendance at the 2017 Class 4A state football championship game, Robertson’s Arjay Ortiz put on a performance few will forget.

It was one of the most epic, single-game showings a single player could display. Ortiz threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns, ran for 158 yards and three more scores, and picked off an opposing pass in the end zone.

In the end, however, the effort went for naught as Ruidoso rallied for a last-second touchdown and a 57-54 victory that left Ortiz bawling nearly uncontrollably in his father’s arms.

Although it was the third consecutive season that Ortiz and his Cardinals teammates came up short in the season finale, there’s no denying what he accomplished on the gridiron.

The fact that he was also a standout in both basketball and track and field, while maintaining a grade-point average of about 3.5, makes him an easy choice as the Journal North male athlete of the year.

A four-year starter in football, coach Leroy Gonzalez said he saw something in Ortiz immediately.

“From day one that he came out, we knew he was something special,” Gonzalez said. “He came out, he was one of those kids, you knew that there was something he could give to the school.”

What he gave to the school as a senior were numbers that are hard to believe.

In football, Ortiz threw for 1,767 yards and 19 touchdowns, then added 1,864 rushing yards and 25 more touchdowns rushing. For good measure, he had a team-best 100 tackles and nine interceptions.

Ortiz was an across-the-board threat in basketball, scoring 21 points a game, with 7.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.1 steals and 2.3 blocks. (Courtesy of Shannon Steven Aragon)

In hoops, where he certainly had his ups and downs, he still averaged 21 points with 7.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.1 steals and 2.3 blocks for a team that was otherwise quite inexperienced.

And in track, he repeated as state champion in both the 300-meter hurdles and the high jump, while also adding a silver medal in the 110 hurdles.

Ortiz is the type of natural athlete to whom others easily gravitate, said Robertson basketball coach Manuel Romero.

“He’s always had the good leadership qualities in him,” he said. “When he was a ninth-grader, of course the older kids were the leaders, but he still had those leadership qualities to him and even the older kids would respond to some of his actions. Now, this year, with us being up and down … I pretty much gave him a lot more responsibility and duties in terms of leading a group of (young) kids that I had to go with and he did an excellent job of doing so.”

The Cardinals lost several key, experienced hoops players to moves, occasionally leaving Ortiz frustrated with the results. It all boiled over in the regular-season basketball finale when Robertson lost to rival St. Michael’s 60-58 and he stormed shirtless off the court with a obscene gesture, then returned briefly to go back into the stands before leaving. That resulted in a suspension for the team’s state tournament opener.

It was an issue of his competitiveness and emblematic of his will to win, Romero said.

“There were issues,” he said. “But it was not for his lack of character. It arose out of him being such a competitor, frustration at times set in. Frustrations contributed to some of his not-so-great actions on the court. All in all, it was competitive nature and the will to always be the best he can be.”

Ortiz acknowledged he went over the line and he said the incident matured him and drove him to be better.

“I let my emotions get the best of me, but that’s in the past,” he said. “I accepted (my punishment) and went on.”

Robertson’s Arjay Ortiz clears the last hurdle for the win in the prelims in the Boys 4A State Track Meet at UNM Track. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Indeed he did, rolling right into track, just missing gold in the 110 hurdles by .03 seconds, then following up with a handy win in 300 (39.24) and clearing 6 foot, 2 inches on his first attempt to take the high jump.

As for which sport he prefers, that’s an easy call.

“Football, that’s my favorite out of all of them,” he said. “I think football for us, it’s more of a family thing. You’re with these guys all summer and all season. It’s just bonding. You’re with these guys for so long and you put so much time into each game you have, I see all these guys as my brothers and I will do anything for my family.”

Ortiz decided to stay home and play football in college, as well, choosing New Mexico Highlands University, which will give him the chance to play quarterback, but also is opened-minded enough to see himself as an athlete who also can play receiver or defensive back.

But it was the track medals that he regards with the most pride.

“Even though it was not my favorite, I won that myself,,” Ortiz said. “Football and basketball, you win as a team. It shows how hard you have to work to get those (medals). I had good coaching to help me get there and it was an individual achievement.”