As it turns out, Rio Rancho High School can now claim its second professional football player: Merica Valdez, a member of the Class of 2015.
Chris Williams was the first, a three-sport standout at RRHS who went on to have an outstanding career on the field at New Mexico State University before playing briefly in the NFL, followed by an all-star career in the Canadian Football League.
Today, he’s an assistant for the Rams’ football and basketball teams.
Valdez is listed as a 5-foot, 6-inch defensive end, wearing No. 99, for the Atlanta Empire (1-0) of the new eight-team, 7-on-7 women’s X League. The Empire played at the Denver Rush Friday, idle a week after a 50-34 over the previously No.1 ranked Austin Sound.
X League is touted as a global sports franchise “led by innovation and a platform to empower female athletes worldwide” and it got its start in Japan.
It’s designed to appeal to traditional football, not only in the U.S. but worldwide.
It’s not the old Lingerie League, by any means.
That Valdez is in a professional sport doesn’t shock any of her former coaches.
“I’m not surprised. She was an amazing athlete,” said RRHS Athletic Director Sal Gonzales, formerly a track coach. “She, honestly, was one of the most-rare athletes we had.
“Her best event was the pole vault, but she could high jump and throw the shot — I think she qualified in all three events,” he said. “She had a gymnastics background and she had been in combat sports.”
“I think the best adjective to describe Merica was tenacious,” ssaid former Rams girls track & field coach Rick Miller. “She would try any event we wanted to put her in and give it 110 percent. Some worked; some didn’t.”
That Valdez has a new sport doesn’t surprise him, either.
“(The) pole vault is the most technical event in track & field, in my opinion. She attacked it from the first day. She studied it and tried to get all the knowledge she could,” Miller added. “I found her to be a joy to coach and have on our team — a true leader by example and overall a very respectful and kind person. I do feel sorry for the first girl she gets a free run at and hits in the open field.”
Valdez also spent time as a Rams cheerleader.
“She had never cheered before,” remembered RRHS cheer coach Wendy Lopez. “She tried out for the team her senior year, picked it up quickly and showed some amazing tumbling skills. She became an amazing asset to the team with her strength and determination.”
To see a Valdez workout, go to https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=531854824385228.