SYLMAR — For a guy who thought making the Sylmar High football team would be a stretch, Jose Ochoa has done better than all right.
The 6-foot, 200-pound uncoordinated kid who enrolled at Sylmar as a sophomore in 1994 has grown into his body and surpassed his athletic expectations.
He's 6 feet 4, 270 pounds and 17 days from his first college football practice at Colorado State.
Tonight at 7:30, Ochoa will play linebacker and tight end for the East team in the Youth Valley Conference all-star game at Birmingham High.
Ochoa, who played youth league baseball, never expected to be playing in an all-star football game. An athletic scholarship? He never gave it a thought before 1995.
"It's a one-in-a-million shot to go [Division I]," said Ochoa, who also received scholarship offers from Arizona and Nevada.
He is the youngest of Daniel and Maria Ochoa's four children. He is also by far the largest. Ochoa surpassed his mother's 5-foot-1 height while still in elementary school and his father's 5-foot-8 frame in the seventh grade.
His size first caught the eye of Sylmar Coach Jeff Engilman, but it was Ochoa's speed that impressed him.
Ochoa was promoted from the B team for the Spartans' 1994 playoff run, which ended with a 4-A City championship. Engilman remembers a player challenge that ended with Ochoa beating Denys Martin, a 5-8, 160-pound defensive back, in a 40-yard sprint.
"I knew then the kid had a lot of potential," Engilman said.
Ochoa started on offense and defense his junior and senior seasons.
He caught only 17 passes in two seasons, but averaged 22.4 yards a catch. Last season, Ochoa caught 10 passes, five for touchdowns.
Catching plenty of passes wasn't in Ochoa's job description. Sylmar employs one of the best running attacks in the region and it was Ochoa's job to help clear a lane.
"He's a very good blocker," Engilman said. "He's almost another tackle playing tight end."
Colorado State coaches would agree. The Rams run a double-tight end formation and Ochoa is exactly the kind of bookend they were looking for.
"[Colorado State] needed a tight end to go in and play right away," Ochoa said. "I've got the strength and ability to play. Maybe not start, but challenge to play."
Engilman said he wouldn't be surprised if Ochoa eventually moves inside as a down lineman. With some work, Ochoa could be explosive.
"His lack of knowledge of how to take somebody down [needs work]," Engilman said. "He'll blow his man 10 yards back, but sometimes in the wrong direction."
Ochoa's career nearly went in the wrong direction last year as a senior. After two injury-free seasons, Ochoa injured his knee and both ankles. He took a helmet to the knee while blocking against Reseda in the fourth week and never returned to form.
Two weeks after suffering a slight tear of the medial collateral ligament, Ochoa strained his right Achilles' tendon in practice and sprained his left ankle in a game just days later.
His injuries sidelined him for Sylmar's overtime win against Canoga Park in the final regular season game.
Ochoa looked like a walking mummy in a first-round playoff game against Narbonne. A half-dozen rolls of tape were used on his knee and ankles in addition to braces.
Unable to work out during his rehabilitation, he gained 15 pounds.
"I couldn't really do anything so I just ate," he said.
Football is not without its injuries and that why Ochoa's parents have never attended one of their son's games.
They fear for his well-being and can't bear to see him get hurt.
"I understand their worries and all that," Ochoa said.
"It's good enough [for me] that my sisters and brother go [to games]."
Although Daniel Ochoa encouraged his son to try out for football, he has never sat in the bleachers for a game.
"My dad drives around the school [during the game]," Ochoa said. "[He] parks for about five minutes, makes sure I'm OK and then goes home. He's afraid I'm gonna get hurt."
Ochoa talked his mother into attending a previous all-star game at Pierce College.
She sat in the bleachers and watched her son for the first time do what he does best.
He was so moved by his mother's attendance, it threw him out of his game and he dropped a couple of passes.
"That's why I messed up," he said. "I was like shaking. I was like, 'Oh my God.' I didn't want to get hurt. I was so nervous. Honest to God, I was scared."
Ochoa is hoping to redeem himself tonight when his father positions himself in the stands and watches an entire game for the first time.
Whether he is playing in front of his father or 30,000 fans at Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins, Ochoa's goal remains the same.
"I just want to make my family proud of me," he said.