Velichko inspires Spartan teammates to serve

Steve Helwick

On the field, it’s hard to miss Nate Velichko. The senior right tackle anchors the San Jose State offensive line, standing 6-feet-7-inches tall in the Spartans’ signature blue and gold.

Off the field, it’s even harder to miss him. Velichko is a cornerstone in his local community, serving in a variety of outreach and service programs. He started participating in voluntary activities as a freshman through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, speaking at local high schools and middle schools.

“I really liked the idea of giving back because when you’re given an opportunity to play a sport at a high level and have kids look up to you, you really want to take advantage of that,” Velichko said.

He continued planting his footprint on campus in San Jose by helping freshmen students move into dorms and working at local kids’ camps. In 2015, his Spartans earned a bid into the inaugural AutoNation Cure Bowl where they defeated Georgia State. In the week prior to the game, Velichko earned a unique opportunity to visit an Orlando children’s hospital.

“Our coach at the time mentioned that we would get an opportunity to go to the hospital for a visit, and as soon as I heard about it, I was the first one to volunteer,” Velichko said. “There was a kid off in the corner, quiet, and doing his own thing. We started painting this wooden dinosaur. He painted the whole thing green, and then he was like ‘Oh, no. I want to paint the whole thing pink now!’ So we had to repaint the whole thing, but he was having the time of his life. When it came time to leave, he gave me a really big hug and he didn’t want to leave.”

Velichko started reaching out to children at Washington Elementary — an institution close to CEFCU Stadium in a run-down neighborhood. He frequented the school every Friday last year. Service became contagious within the football program as a result of Velichko, who influenced teammates to participate in activities at Washington.

“Nate was having fun,” defensive tackle Owen Roberts said on his first visit to the elementary. “Watching him run around with the kids helped me to become more comfortable. And then, I started volunteering to go, because of Nate. Now, I start going by myself, all because of Nate.”

Velichko’s first-year coach, Brent Brennan, is a new resident on campus, but he already recognizes the lineman’s special relationship with the local youth.

“I’m standing at a grammar school campus,” Brennan said. “It’s lunch time and Nate is running across the campus with a kid on his shoulders and another on his back being chased by 50 kids. The smiles on their faces and the smile on his face were just amazing.”

Velichko, a kinesiology major, is in the midst of his final year with the Spartans. After graduating, he plans to pursue a career in either strength training, athletic training or in the law enforcement field. The two-time All-Academic Mountain West honoree was home-schooled until sixth grade, involving himself in a variety of sports at a young age. However, football did not begin as his primary sport. Velichko played basketball but traded in the high-tops for cleats when a coach suggested him to relocate his on-court physicality to the gridiron.

As a four-year starter at San Jose State, Velichko has accomplished plenty both on and off the field. With his time as a Spartan nearing its conclusion, Velichko has one significant goal in mind. He plans to foster an even closer relationship between San Jose State University and Washington Elementary — a connection that lasts beyond Velichko’s tenure in San Jose.

“That’s the best thing we can teach our young people,” Brennan said. “Have a heart and soul that cares for others and is genuinely concerned with the greater good. No one is a better depiction than Nate.”