Check out the latest in our feature series, "Making an Impact".
Each week we'll look at a moment, personality, organization or tradition that makes Texas A&M Athletics and those support it and compete for it so special.
Luke Joeckel honors fallen teammate with endowed scholarship fund
by Rusty Burson
12th Man Magazine
Long before he was a first-team All-American, the 2012 Outland Trophy winner and one of the top two most coveted pro prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft, former Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel was merely a nervous, lean 18-year-old new student in Aggieland looking to fit in quickly.
Joeckel, who graduated a semester early from Arlington High School and enrolled at A&M in January 2010, vividly recalls the veteran Aggies’ player who welcomed him first and made him feel comfortable in his new surroundings.
“When I first got down here after graduating high school early, (reserve offensive lineman Joey Villavisencio) was the first guy who really took me under his wing and showed me how to be a student-athlete and how to be a man,” Joeckel recalled recently. “He was that perfect example because he worked and played his tail off every single day. He was also in an extremely hard major (radiological health engineering). He was also involved in CARPOOL (a student-run non-profit organization serving the Bryan/College Station community with free rides home every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.) and many other organizations on campus. He showed my brother, Matt, and me how to be an influential person on campus and on the team. He was just a great guy.”
For as long as he lives, Joeckel says he will never forget the positive influence that “Joey V” had on him. Toward the end of last year, Joeckel also took a significant action step to ensure that people in Villavisencio’s hometown will also continue to reflect positively on the former Jacksonville (Texas) High School star for generations to come.
On Dec. 20, 2013—near the two-year anniversary of Joey V’s tragic automobile accident that took his life—the Jacksonville Education Foundation (JEF) announced that a $50,000 endowment scholarship fund had been established by Joeckel in memory of Villavisencio. According to Matt Montgomery, Chairman of the Donor and Finance Committee for the JEF, a scholarship will be awarded annually to a deserving Jacksonville resident who is both a student-athlete and a member of the Jacksonville Indian Band, just like Villavisencio had been during his high school career.
“We were absolutely blown away by Luke’s donation,” Montgomery told Jay Neal of the Jacksonville Daily Progress last December. “It just speaks to the impact that Joe had on this young man’s life and the lives of so many others.”
Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, signed a four-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars last June, providing him with the financial ability to do some things he had been pondering for years. At the top of that list was honoring his late friend.
On Dec. 22, 2011, Villavisencio (pronounced VEE-ah-vah-sen-cee-oh) was killed in a head-on, two-automobile accident on Highway 39 south of Normangee. His vehicle was traveling north on Highway 39 from North Zulch toward Normangee on his way home to Jacksonville. According to witnesses, Villavisencio swerved to avoid a buzzard in the roadway and his car went into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler.
Earlier that day, Villavisencio had participated in a toy giveaway with his teammates at the Twin City Mission in Bryan. The team had purchased gifts for children and families in need, and he was participating in the give-away at the event. Later in the day, the 22-year-old Villavisencio and his A&M teammates were granted permission to go home for Christmas by then-interim head coach Tim DeRuyter before reconvening in Houston for the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.
Unfortunately, Villavisencio never made it home for Christmas. The Aggies dedicated their 33-22 victory over Northwestern in the bowl game to Villavisencio, and Joeckel vowed to do something to personally honor Joey V whenever the time was appropriate.
“After being drafted, I was receiving all these amazing opportunities and being able to live out my dream,” said Joeckel, the only offensive lineman in A&M history to ever win the Outland Trophy. “The first thing I always wanted to do was do something for Joey. He did something for me. His parents have always been around. They have been friends with my parents at football games and that kind of stuff. I wanted to do something for Joey because of the impact he had on me during our time together.
“(Former A&M offensive line coach Jim) Turner always said (Villavisencio) was going to be the most successful out of all of us. Some of us may go off to the NFL, but that won’t compare to what Joey will do with his life. He will be the President someday. He was that type of guy. Being able to have the opportunity to give back and to do this in his name is a true honor. And I wanted to make sure whoever (received the annual scholarship) was in the band and was an athlete. Joey used to always talk about how he would play football and then take off his shoulder pads at halftime and play in the marching band at home. The scholarship is for another great person who is a lot like Joey.”
While Villavisencio certainly proved on the high school level that he was a Jack of all trades, Joeckel is looking forward to proving that he can be a master of one on the next level: protecting the quarterback’s blindside. Joeckel’s rookie season in Jacksonville was abruptly grounded just as he seemed to be ready to take flight at left tackle.
Joeckel had started the first four games of the 2013 season at right tackle for the Jaguars because of the presence of former University of Virginia star Eugene Monroe, who had started 58 games at left tackle since Jacksonville drafted him with the eighth overall pick in 2009. But on Oct. 2, 2013, the Jaguars traded Monroe to Baltimore for a couple of draft picks, opening up the left tackle spot for Joeckel.
The 6-foot-6, 306-pound Joeckel started at left tackle for the first time in his NFL career on Oct. 6 at St. Louis. But the start didn’t last long. In the first quarter of that loss, Joeckel was injured when his right leg was caught underneath him as he was rolled on by several players at the end of a running play. Players immediately called for trainers, and Joeckel was taken from the field on a motorized cart.
X-rays later revealed a right high ankle fracture, and Joeckel was lost for the season.
“It was very difficult (to watch the rest of the season),” the personable Joeckel said. “Not having any injuries (recently), I don’t think I had missed a single practice at A&M. I had not been injured since my sophomore year of high school. Being injured and watching your teammates practice and go through the grind of football season is definitely tough. That is something I don’t want to ever happen again.
“When it happened, I knew it was bad right away. I looked down and my foot was out of place. It was just one of those things that happen to offensive linemen and you just kind of hope your foot is not planted in the ground when you get rolled up on. My foot was planted and a big defensive tackle fell on the back of my legs. It is part of the game. When it happens it sucks, but rehab is going well and I’m just trying to get back at full speed.”
Despite the disappointment of a season-ending injury, Joeckel says his rookie season did have its fair share of highlights, beginning with the April 25 draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Entering last year’s draft, Joeckel was projected by many NFL insiders to become the first A&M player to ever be chosen with the No. 1 overall pick. Instead, the Kansas City Chiefs chose offensive tackle Eric Fisher with the top pick.
At No. 2 overall, Joeckel joined four other Texas A&M players who have previously been selected second: Von Miller (Denver Broncos, 2011), Quentin Coryatt (Indianapolis Colts, 1992), John David Crow (1958, St. Louis Cardinals) and John Kimbrough (1941, Chicago Cardinals). While Joeckel acknowledges he would have loved to have gone No. 1 overall, he says the experience was tremendously positive.
“The draft experience was great,” said Joeckel, whose twin brother, Matt, is battling this spring for the Aggies’ starting quarterback position.” Going to New York City, being able to do all these cool things while we there and being able to celebrate it all with my family was really memorable. It was an experience I will never forget.
“Everyone wants to go No. 1. We are all competitive guys. Every single guy there in New York wanted to be the first pick. They wouldn’t be there if they weren’t competitors. Not going No. 1 made my competitive side come out. I was a little disappointed with it. But being able to go No. 2 and being able to play for (head coach Gus) Bradley, I mean we have a great staff. (General manager) Dave Caldwell is doing the right things. We are going to build our team up right. It is a great place to be. I’m really happy I’m in Jacksonville, and I’m excited to be a Jaguar.”
Joeckel isn’t making any predictions regarding how the Jaguars will use the third overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday, May 8. But he certainly wouldn’t mind if the team came away with one of his former A&M teammates, as quarterback Johnny Manziel, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans are all projected to be taken in first round.
No matter where those players go, Joeckel says he is extremely proud to see how A&M is continuing a trend of producing first-round picks in the NFL. After Miller went to the Broncos in 2011, quarterback Ryan Tannehill was taken by Miami with the No. 8 pick in 2012. Joeckel continued the trend in ’13, and it will undoubtedly continue in ’14.
“It is a true honor to be part of all that,” Joeckel said. “All those guys were guys that worked their tails off every single day. That is the biggest thing. To reach that level, you just have to outwork everyone else. Talent alone is not enough. Every one of those guys went in every single day to try to outwork everyone else. To be part of that and start something here at A&M again is just awesome.
“In an NFL locker room, a lot of talk goes on about your college, and it’s fun to talk about the things that are happening now at Texas A&M. It started with Von Miller, who I was fortunate enough to play against in practice, and the Aggies just keep churning out big-time players. It’s a good time to be an Aggie.”