The parent trip: Return home during COVID-19 inspired Ambriz to earn UW-Stout degree, football honors

Graduating construction major used time with family to gain new perspective on college, shine as a Blue Devil and focus on career
Jesus Ambriz blocks on a passing play during a Blue Devil game. The left tackle was named first-team All-WIAC and second-team All-Region.
​Jerry Poling | December 14, 2023

When Jesus Ambriz thinks back to late summer 2019, he sees a young man who was excited to begin college and play football at UW-Stout — but one who had a lot to learn.

In Monee, Ill., he had been a good student and football player, even drawing Division I football scholarship interest. Admittedly lacking, however, were the commitment and focus he needed to realize his potential and to succeed at the next level of school and athletics.

When he graduates Saturday, Dec. 16, from UW-Stout with a Bachelor of Science degree in construction, he will celebrate all that UW-Stout has brought to his life and with thanks for his parents, Jesus Sr. and Irma Ambriz.

Ambriz meets with his mother, Irma, left, and father, Jesus Sr., after a Blue Devil game.
Ambriz meets with his mother, Irma, left, and father, Jesus Sr., after a Blue Devil game. / Contributed photo

Ambriz will soon begin a management position at one of the country’s largest construction companies, Turner Construction, with an all-conference football honor to his credit and so much more confidence and perspective.

However, Jesus said he was “late to the party” when it came to good study and football practice habits. He also dealt with loneliness when he arrived at UW-Stout. “Having to figure it out was a lot,” he said.

Unexpectedly, Jesus found his way forward when he went back — back home. Like others, he was off campus in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19 restrictions. In Monee again, after having been away for seven months, he saw clearly for the first time the life opportunity that had been laid at his feet because of his parents, who had come from Mexico for a better life in the U.S.

Jesus Ambriz, of Monee, Ill., earned a degree in construction from UW-Stout and was an all-conference football lineman.
Jesus Ambriz, of Monee, Ill., earned a degree in construction from UW-Stout and was an all-conference football lineman. / UW-Stout

After COVID and some home cooking, things slowly fell into place at UW-Stout. “That year helped me the most mentally,” he said. “Being home gave me time to talk with them. We had lots of conversations about how I can benefit from going to school. I felt like I needed that. They told me, ‘You can do great things if you keep going.’ It motivated me. It was awesome,” Jesus said. 

When he returned to Stout, the young man who at one point in high school had begun to associate with the wrong crowd “knew what I had to do to be a student and an athlete.”

He was committed, learned how to manage his time, got through some tough classes like Physics and Engineering Mechanics: Statics and had the full support of his professors and coaches. “They have been great, and they offer you the resources you need to succeed,” Jesus said.

He bore down in the classroom, at first to the detriment of his focus on the football field. However, everything came together this fall as he finished his degree and was named first-team All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and second-team D3Football.Com All-Region. A 6-foot-3, 290-pound left tackle on the offensive line, he allowed no quarterback sacks in more than 500 team pass plays. UW-Stout had one of the top offenses in the WIAC.

Ambriz holds the War on 94 trophy after UW-Stout defeated UW-Eau Claire in 2022.
Ambriz holds the War on 94 trophy after UW-Stout defeated UW-Eau Claire in 2022. / UW-Stout

“This past year Jesus really saw the big picture in life and developed into a great teammate on and off the field,” said Clayt Birmingham, UW-Stout head football coach. “He learned how to be a better communicator and took pride in being another coach by always trying to help the next guy get better. When you see a young man like Jesus mature into a servant leader, that is a great feeling knowing he will be successful in life.”

In February, Jesus will begin work in Chicago as a field engineer at Turner, a North American leader with $15 billion a year in construction projects. He had summer internships with Turner in 2022 and 2023 through UW-Stout’s Career Conference and Career Services, one of more than 1,000 students each year who gain on-the-job experience in their majors.

After working on construction projects for a supercomputer facility at Argonne National Laboratory and a cancer center for the University of Chicago Medical Center, he was told, “We definitely want you back.”

UW-Stout’s construction program has a history of 100% employment, exceeding the university’s overall 99.4% employment and continuing education rate within six months for graduates.

Ambriz, No. 75, gathers with other Blue Devil linemen after a game at UW-Platteville.
Ambriz, No. 75, gathers with other Blue Devil linemen after a game at UW-Platteville. / Contributed photo

Growth and perspective

Jesus also had an unofficial internship that left a big impression. The summer he returned home, in 2020, he worked at his dad’s place of employment, a company that makes Styrofoam products. He saw firsthand how hard his father has worked to get ahead, including as a construction laborer for a time.

Irma works the night shift for a company that manufactures car parts.

His parents never had the chance to go to college. Jesus Sr. emigrated to the U.S., the first in his family, at age 17 and harvested strawberries in Watsonville, Calif. Irma was born in Texas but moved back to Mexico, where she met Jesus Sr. in Michoacan, central Mexico. They married and eventually moved to Blue Island, Ill., then Monee, on the southern edge of suburban Chicago, for a job opportunity.

Jesus, whose parents mostly spoke Spanish, attended Crete-Monee High School. In football, he was all-conference, a team captain and part of a team that took second in the state in 2018.

B.S. Construction Management

You'll receive hands-on experience in technical and engineering processes of the construction industry, and learn business, management and marketing practices.
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He initially planned to get a two-year degree and become an electrician, until his high school football coach suggested he consider college and the field of construction management. Jesus had never heard of it, but the next day a UW-Stout football coach stopped by on a recruiting visit and mentioned Stout had that program.

The program and UW-Stout’s applied learning approach intrigued Jesus. He and his parents drove the six hours to visit campus. He decided that day to commit. “I liked the coaches and players. It felt like a family. I liked it right off the bat,” he said.

When he left home for college in 2019, Jesus made a promise. “I told my parents I would do my best.”

Going to college, however, forced him to leave behind friends and family.

“One of those moments that I still think about to this day is not being there for my grandmother in her final days. However, I knew she wanted me in school to continue pursuing my dream. My grandparents, whom I loved very much, left this world before they could see what I've accomplished so far. I can only hope they're proud of me.

“The thought of what I have yet to accomplish in this life, and the prospect of my parents witnessing everything, gives me a sense of bliss. They are watching that bundle of joy they call 'son' finally piecing together into a young man entering the real world. I am extremely grateful for everyone who has played a role in shaping me into the person I am now. Without them and my parents, only God knows what I would have become.

“I didn’t want to be the kid who could have done it but didn’t. I didn’t want that regret. You have to sacrifice to get what you want, and I did it. It’s a good feeling,” he said.

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