Reggie Wright
ASU Student Journalist

Football and family: Chuck Esquivel’s impact

December 5, 2023 by Reggie Wright, Arizona State University

Ryan Esquivel (right; green shirt and hat) looks on during a Peoria varsity football practice.

Reggie Wright is an ASU Cronkite School of Journalism student assigned to cover Peoria High School for

Family is defined as a “group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Finding common ground strengthens ties within a family, whether it's a love of a certain sport, a hobby like gardening or an interest in a particular type of literature or film. 

It's a great opportunity to acknowledge and value differences, celebrate commonalities and build a stronger sense of a family’s togetherness and belonging.

For the Esquivel family, the common passion is football. 

In Arizona high school football, the Esquivels have etched themselves in the folklore in multiple ways. 

Charles “Chuck” Esquivel was the head of the Esquivel family.

After playing college football at Glendale Community College and the University of New Mexico, Esquivel started his coaching career at Cactus High School.

He had a brief coaching stint with the Cobras before leaving for Ironwood High School in Glendale. 

From 1987 to 1995, he was Ironwood football's assistant coach. From 1996 to 2002, he served as the team's head coach.

Esquivel led the Eagles to a 45-32-1 record and a 6-2 postseason record. He appeared in two championship games with Ironwood. 

“Chuck was a great leader, great coach and a great friend,” said Tim Langan, former coach at Ironwood and a close friend of Esquivel’s. “Even when his physical condition got worse over time, he still wanted to be around football”

Langan first met Esquivel when the latter arrived at Ironwood High School in 1987. They instantly became the best of friends. 

He knew Esquivel as a man who “never missed an opportunity to embrace life and welcome ‘all’ into his life.”

Langan also remembered him as a huge prankster, as he was a common victim of Esquivel’s harmless practical jokes even after a cancer diagnosis. 

“When he started to lose his eyesight and needed help walking around, I would help him around and sometimes make ‘mistakes,' leading him into light poles and curbs,” Langan said. 

“Whenever Chuck had the opportunity to gain sympathy, telling someone what I did to make me look bad, he would do it.”

The pair’s friendship developed over the years, buying houses next door to each other. Langan also officiated the wedding of Esquivel’s daughter, Tori. 

Away from the field, Chuck taught Spanish and spent time with his family. He married his childhood friend turned high school sweetheart, Jeanne Esquivel, in 1977, and fathered three children: Terra, Tori and Ryan.

“The thing about Chuck was that he gave it all [on the field] but when he came home, it was family time, our time,” Jeanne Esquivel said. “My kids were afraid of me, but they weren’t afraid of Chuck. He was the life of the party, the biggest teddy bear, the happy-go-lucky jokester and the kids loved him.”

Chuck Esquivel was inducted into the Ironwood Athletic Hall of Fame in February 2017 and passed away only a few days later after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 57 years old.

Even after his passing, his love and passion for the game still runs through his children and fellow relatives. And those they lead.

His son, Ryan Esquivel, has been a volunteer coach over the past 20 years at Peoria High School. 

“My dad got me into football,” he said. “I remember him taking me to California for a football camp, and it was a good experience for me.”

Ryan and his father had a tight bond when he was growing up. He remembers the countless number of practices his father brought him along to, and they attended the Special Olympics Games.

With his father no longer around, Ryan’s memory of him still runs rampant through his mind. He and his mother, Jeanne, have a special way of remembering Chuck.

Every night when they go outside, they always look up into the clouds, and talk to “Chuck” by finding the brightest star in the sky.

According to Jeanne, the idea was proposed by Esquivel himself in his final days. 

“When Coach [Esquivel] was dying, I wanted to ask a lot of questions, things like how would we know that you’re still around,” she said. “He told me that when you go outside every night, I will be the brightest of the stars in the sky.” 

“So we go out, tell him about our days, how we are doing, ask him to keep watching over us.”

Ryan and Jeanne are not the only ones who felt Chuck’s impact during his lifetime. 

His nephew, Roy Lopez, is currently in his third year of coaching with the Desert Ridge Jaguars. 

“Without the Esquivel family, there would be no Lopez family, plain and simple,” Lopez said. “There were some really good mentors in the family, but Uncle Chuck was the one who broke the ice with me.”

With his uncle’s influence, Roy played college football. He later began his coaching career at New Mexico Highlands University before moving back to Arizona to coach high school football. 

Prior to his time at Desert Ridge, Lopez also plied his coaching trade at Tucson Sunnyside and Tolleson.

But he is well known for his stint at Marcos De Niza High School, where he led the Padres to a 5A championship game in 2009. Lopez repeated the feat once again with Marcos De Niza in 2015 but lost to Saguaro in the state championship.

Three Marcos de Niza teams were led by him to the state semifinals. Along with his three quarterfinal appearances, he won the Arizona High School Coach of the Year award twice.

His son, Roy Jacob Lopez, went to the University of Arizona and currently plays in the NFL as a defensive tackle for the Arizona Cardinals. 

The elder Lopez’s love for the sport came at an early age from playing backyard football games with his family and other neighboring families.

“We knew that it was our passion. It was bred in our blood,” he said. “We know that it’s part of our life, but our passion for each other is more important, so we’ll support anything that we do on and off the field.”

Memories of his late uncle often cross Roy’s mind whenever he talks about Chuck.

“I can remember being 9 years old, going to the University of New Mexico with my nana and my tata, I can remember going into the locker room with him,” he recalls.

“Being 9, 10 years old, you have dreams, you want be like them, and I recall telling myself that I would be in a locker room like this one day. If my family could go out and do it then I could do it.”

Even after Esquivel’s death, Lopez still feels his uncle’s impact beyond the physical realm, whether it be on the football field or in his personal life. 

“He’s in every decision that I make,” Lopez said. “He helps me with instinctive decisions, makes me think about what he would have done differently if he were in my shoes.” 

Lopez hopes to take the lessons learned from his uncle and pass them down to future generations.

“The influence that the kids have made on me, I have to do right by them,” he said. “Being able to live right, exposing these kids to faith, family and football in that order is important. To be a good person, student and athlete – and without football, I wouldn’t be able to do that.”