By Jerry Briggs
As a kid growing up in California, Robert Ursua dreamed of becoming a college football player. At the same time, he also harbored a deep-seated desire to serve his country.
Ursua has completed one of those challenges and is working diligently on the other as a 27-year-old, first-year tight end in the UTSA football program.
“When I was younger, the whole 9-11 thing really encouraged me to join the military,” Ursua said. “I kind of had, I guess, the itch.”
Ultimately, the itch led to a six-year career in the U.S. Navy.
Joining the service in 2008, less than a year after his high school graduation, Ursua was promptly routed into a diving unit for explosive ordnance disposal.
“It’s essentially the Navy bomb squad,” he said.
The job, and all it entailed, served to change Ursua in many ways. Back before he joined the service, he admittedly was searching for some direction in his life.
“I just really wanted to be active in something, (to be) doing something,” Ursua recalled.
Today, he doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with setting a goal and going after it.
For instance, when Ursua left the Navy, he elected to sign up for classes at Palomar Junior College in Southern California.
Attending to the rigors of academics and playing football, he became one of Palomar’s top receiving targets, catching 30 passes as a freshman in 2015 and 40 more as a sophomore last fall.
This fall, he’s expected to earn some playing time for the Roadrunners, perhaps joining Shaq Williams for a 1-2 punch at tight end.
“He’s a big guy,” UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm said. “He’s a big, strong guy who’s got great hands. He’s definitely going to help us with the throwing game.”
Even though Ursua is new to the team, Sturm said he already sees the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder from Bakersfield developing leadership skills.
“I wouldn’t say he’s a real vocal guy, but he’s a big on-the-field leader,” Sturm said. “I feel like he’ll lead with his actions and just get people to follow him that way.
“Like you said, he’s been in the Navy six or seven years, so he’s seen a lot stuff. He’s got a lot of knowledge that a lot of guys can listen to, whether it’s football or not.”
Last fall, it didn’t take long for Ursua to decide on UTSA as a destination to continue his career.
“I really felt like it was a family here,” he said. “The coaching staff welcomed me. When I came on my visit, it almost felt like I was back in the Navy, with the brotherhood.”
Feeling good about his choice, he began in earnest the transition from junior college to Division I athlete.
“It’s completely different,” Ursua said. “It’s more intense, a lot faster paced … Through every practice, I’m trying to get better through repetition. I try to become more accustomed to the speed and the physicality of being here, in Division I.”
Mentally, he may have an edge on some Division I athletes already.
After all, Ursua might be the only tight end in the nation who has crossed the equator while on a work detail at sea.
On top of all that, Ursua is older than most, as he will celebrate his 28th birthday on Monday.
“I don’t think my age helped me mature,” Ursua said. “I feel like it was (serving in) the Navy. Doing the things I did … and seeing the things I did, it helped me deal with situations (better). I want that to translate here, (so) when it gets tough, keep pushing through, you know what I mean?”