Mike Bargas calls it lightning striking twice.
After the Estancia High football coach took one of his players, Alipa Peters, to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Ceremony in 2011, he never thought he would be back. But he got a chance to take a current player, linebacker Ronnie Urquiza, again this past weekend to mingle with NFL royalty.
"It's a pretty big deal," Bargas said. "If you're a football fan, it's a priceless event."
Urquiza was one of two Orange County players, along with Julian Mendoza of Segerstrom, to make the trip through the Legacy Leadership Project. It's a yearlong mentoring program, directed by Dr. Casey Cooper, that is offered to football players entering their senior year of high school. Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes is Urquiza's mentor for the next year.
Bargas and Urquiza were in Canton, Ohio for five days. They stayed for the duration of the Hall of Fame ceremony, watching the speeches of all seven inductees. They got to be on the field Sunday night for the first half of the Hall of Fame game, in which the New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills, 17-13.
It has been busy times for Bargas with the high school football season approaching. After getting back to Southern California, he quickly left home for a few days for a family trip to Pismo Beach, before returning Thursday.
He also took the time to answer a few questions from the Daily Pilot about his experience at the Pro Football Hall of Fame festivities with Urquiza.
Question: What were some of the more memorable times of the weekend for you?
Answer: We did a hospital visitation to the general hospital in Canton. Mike Haynes and Ronnie and myself and Dr. Casey Collins, we went over and visited certain patients. A lot of them were terminal with cancer. Mike Haynes spent time with these patients that were fans of his in the NFL. I think that was a pretty memorable afternoon. That was probably the most meaningful for me.
The second one was, we got to go to Michael Strahan's party [after the Gold Jacket Ceremony]. Bon Jovi and LL Cool J performed. That was pretty neat. It was kind of like a who's who ... I know one of Ronnie's favorite times was that there's this parade Saturday morning. Ronnie was on his own car, on a Corvette. He said he felt like a celebrity.
Another cool thing, was that to start off the ceremony, they have what's called the first play. They take this football from the city hall in Canton, and they take it all the way to the Hall of Fame. These little kids pass the inaugural football, and so you've got like 4,000 kids who toss the ball to each other for three miles. That was really inspirational. Canton is such a football town. I guess in Canton, they'll put a pink or blue football in the hospital room when every kid's born.
Question: Were you a fan of Bon Jovi or LL Cool J growing up?
Answer: I play Bon Jovi in the weight room when we lift all the time. That was really cool. I'm not a rap guy, but LL Cool J was one of the first [big stars]. There was probably 250 people there, so it was like a little private mini-concert. It was a good chance to listen to some good old '80s, '90s music. They're getting old, just like all of us are.
Question: I understand you also had dinner with former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. Tell me about that.
Answer: It was a little intimidating at first. Myself and the coach from Segerstrom, we were able to sit down and chat with him for a little bit. That night [before the induction ceremony], you're allowed to get autographs and all of that stuff. We just sat down and spoke to him about football, not so much X's and O's but just how times have changed. He talked about his family, and he owns a couple of restaurants too. It was small talk, but it was good.
We actually sat at a table with Chris Berman, and Mike Ditka was sitting at a table by himself, so Dr. Casey introduced us to him ... it was pretty awesome. He's passionate about football and still loves it.
Question: How cool was the actual Hall of Fame induction ceremony itself?
Answer: We were dead center ... it just so happened that two rows behind us, they set up seven chairs. Those chairs happened to be where the Hall of Famers were sitting as they introduced them. And some of the New York Giants coaching staff was sitting an aisle over from us. It was pretty awesome, actually. The weather was pretty decent, and Ronnie and the kid from Segerstrom, Julian, wanted to stay, so we stayed for the whole ceremony.
I'll tell you another thing. The day of the parade, a lot of the Hall of Famers and the new inductees were in the parade, and I had a really nice conversation with [former cornerback and 2014 Hall of Fame inductee] Aeneas Williams. We spoke for about a half an hour before the parade started. He told us a little bit about his upbringing, and how he's a pastor now. When we said, 'Hey congratulations and we're honored to meet you,' he said, 'I'm honored to meet you, because you guys are the ones that guide these kids through an important time of their life.' He was real salt of the earth, humble.
All of the Hall of Famers were really nice, but that stands out in my memory the most, and Mike Haynes too. If you meet Mike Haynes, he's such an awesome individual. He's real down to earth, and he told us his trials and tribulations of going through the pros, and some of the things that he's had to deal with. Everyone can relate to these guys. They're football gods, but they're normal guys like you and I. It was cool to see them open up and give their wisdom to the players. It was pretty special to be around these guys.
Question: What do you think that Ronnie got of the weekend?
Answer: First of all, Ronnie's a salt-of-the-earth person, and it gives guys like Ronnie and Julian hope. It also tells these guys, from my perspective, that they're as important as these other guys that have multi-million dollar contracts. They just were a little bit luckier, a little bit faster, a little bit stronger, but there's opportunities out there.
Three, the basics. They learned how to look people in the eye a little bit better. You can't get any higher than the Hall of Fame, and to be able to shake hands and have dinner with these guys ... they know that they're with royalty from the football world. I think they got really comfortable being around these guys, Marcus Allen, Mike Haynes, Randall McDaniel, they got to meet Jerry Jones and Michael Irvin.
It just shows them that they're valued and that they're important. We actually got to take a limo to LAX. For five or six days, it made them feel, I may be speaking for them, but it made them feel like they were worth their weight in gold. Things are attainable if you're willing to work hard and have a little bit of luck. I know Ronnie will never forget those memories, and I think it makes him more marketable when he gets out of high school and goes to college, or wherever the road takes him.