MARION — You don’t know quite where to start.
There’s the straight football part. Alex Mota accounted for four touchdowns, a pair of two-point conversions and 300 rushing and passing yards this past Saturday to help Marion beat Center Point-Urbana and end an 11-game losing streak.
It was the first varsity performance for the sophomore. He’d never played quarterback in his life until about a month ago, when Marion coaches surprised him at their team camp by requesting he move from running back to lead the Indians’ new read-option, spread offense.
But this isn’t just about football. There’s more to it when it comes to Alex Mota.
Way more to it.
“It’s quite the story,” said his aunt, Rita Cabello.
Yes, it is. Cabello and her husband, Carlos, have custody of Mota, sharing it with Cabello’s sister and her husband, Deana and Scott Arebaugh.
Mota’s mother, Lynn, died in February 2010 after the mini-van she was driving collided with the back of a school bus on a highway. Alex was just 5 years old.
About a year and a half later, Mota’s father, Alfonso, died by accidental carbon-monoxide poisoning while sitting in his parked and running car. Alfonso Mota was a native of the Dominican Republic, played professional baseball for the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the mid-1990s and ended up settling in town.
This was just so much tragedy, so much unfathomable heartache for such a young kid. Such young kids, as Alex has a brother, Andrew, who is six years older and studies engineering at Iowa State University.
“It kind of helps you mature faster,” the soft-spoken Alex said. “I have my aunts, and they have helped a lot. My mom’s sisters, my aunts, they took custody of me. Everyone in our family has been involved in raising us ... I have a lot of people looking out for me.”
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Rita Cabello was a teacher in Texas and Mexico and moved back to Iowa after Alfonso Mota’s death specifically to help care for Alex and Andrew. She is an educator at Kirkwood Community College.
Alex was home schooled by his aunts until eighth grade.
“They have created a path for him to be successful and to find his way as a young man,” said Marion Coach Tim Lovell. “They are all about education, all about hard work. They keep Alex on his toes. He’s a really good kid, really good kid. Very coachable, very hard working, and we really enjoy having him in the program.”
Athletics always have been an escape for Mota.
Those began shortly after Cabello took custody of him, when he was in first grade. She knew he had physicaly ability almost immediately.
“One day, he just said to me ‘I’m fast, you know,’” Cabello remembered. “He didn’t mean it to brag, it was just a little bit of confidence. They have this Little Indians track meet every spring, and they were running the 50-meter dash. The kid was crossing the finish line before some kids were barely off the starting (block). Right then and there, I knew there was something special about this one and his athletic ability. So I made sure we got him into little league baseball that spring. We got him playing basketball as soon as he could. He has really been all about the sports ever since then.”
“The first thing I picked up was a baseball, because that was my dad’s sport,” Alex said. “The other sports just followed along. But football is my favorite. Once you say ‘Hike,’ you can run the ball, kind of do what you’d like.”
Lovell, Mota and his family took a pseudo-recruiting trip last spring to Iowa State, where they got to tour the campus, see the facilities and talk to coaches. It is so, so early in his career, but Lovell thinks Mota might have Division I capability.
It might not be as a QB. Lovell pointed out that Mota had nine special teams touchdowns and over 1,000 punt and kickoff return yards last year as a freshman on Marion’s freshman-sophomore team.
Against Center Point-Urbana, he flashed quickness, speed and a strong arm.
“He excels at everything he does,” Lovell said. “He has God-given talent that a lot of people would kill for. Half of his talent they would kill for. He is very competitive, his temper has been known to get the best of him at times. But he has done a very good job of reigning that in, and his aunts are very quick to make him understand that education comes first. If you don’t get the grades, you don’t play. They’ve done that for him, pulled sports from him when he hasn’t held up his end of the bargain. I appreciate that about them.”
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Marion (1-0) plays Thursday night at seventh-ranked Davenport Assumption (2-0) in a Class 3A district opener.
“We’ve had a lot of stuff to go over,” Mota said. “That was the first game of the year. We’ll have a big jump going into this game. I thought I played pretty well, but, still, you can always do better ... There is always space to improve.”
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