At a smaller Division I school like Marist College, it’s not difficult to put a name to the face of the many athletes competing for the school. After walking around campus for four years with their bright red backpacks and constant Marist Athletics apparel, these athletes have established themselves as just that — athletes. As they round the corner to graduation, the question remains: who are they outside of their sport?
The following story is a part of Center Field’s 19 for ‘19: Stories of the Senior Class series.
Growing up, Anthony Olivencia was told by his grandmother to never answer the front door of his home. If he did, as his grandmother made clear, his family could be separated.
As Anthony and his siblings got older, their grandmother became abusive and dependent on drugs and alcohol. This forced 8-year-old Anthony to become the role model for his siblings, taking care of them and reminding them that everything would be all right.
“It wasn’t really that bad when I was growing up, until it got to a certain point,” said Anthony, who recently finished his senior season on the Marist Football Team.
Life got more difficult when more younger siblings came into the mix. “I got a brother, Charlie, and then I got another brother, and then I got a sister and then I got another brother and I was like ‘woah where are all of these kids coming from?’” Each new sibling was given to his grandmother to raise, which really meant more of a burden on Anthony.
For a time, Anthony would be the only one of his siblings to attend school. Anthony’s teachers became suspicious of his home life when he started to show up each day to school with the same clothes.
One day, there was a knock at the door. His much younger sister was not aware of the ‘don’t answer the door’ policy.
She opened the front door and was greeted by a child care worker. On that day, Anthony and his siblings were removed from their grandmother’s home. The four of them were taken to a police station, given loose-fitting clothing, and then brought to a group foster home.
This was not the first time Anthony had been removed from his caretaker. At the age of three, Anthony was taken away from his mother due to her own alcohol and drug abuse. Without the presence of his father, he was placed under the care of his maternal grandmother. His mother would pop in every once in awhile, and then disappear.
At his grandmother’s, their home was filled to the brim with junk and clutter. Their fridge was empty, their small bodies malnourished. Anthony recalled walking a mile as an 8-year-old to find food for himself and his siblings.
“We would never eat, like maybe once or twice every couple of days we’d eat something,” Anthony said. “My grandfather would always give me money, like $40 a week or something every time he’d see me, so I’d walk to the Publix which was like a mile away. I was like an 8 or 9-year-old kid walking a mile to go to Publix. I’d buy the little bags of chicken and try to bring them back, and obviously when no one was looking I’d try to steal extra food and try to take that over.”
Anthony’s grandfather, his mother’s father, would visit him often in order to take him out of the house and help provide for him, not knowing the full extent of his home situation.
His grandmother had her favorites. Given that Anthony was the eldest of her grandchildren, he fell into her favor. His younger brother wasn’t as lucky.
“My younger brother Curtis, he wasn’t a favorite because he was darker skin,” Anthony said. “So she didn’t see him as her grandson… she would beat him and threaten to not feed him and stuff like that.
“I remember one day he did something and she threw a screwdriver and hit him in the head as he was running from her, and he was bleeding and we can’t take him to the hospital because we would get taken away,” he said. “That was always held against us, like, do you want to stay with your brothers?”
They all knew if they had spoken up or told anyone of their situation, Anthony and his siblings would be separated. His grandmother would threaten to not only hurt the children, but that one day she might even burn the house down.
“One day I came back from school and I saw smoke in the general direction of our house so I freaked out and started running toward my house, and it was just something near my house burning outside,” Anthony said. “I freaked out and started crying and ran inside, and she was like, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I told her that ‘I thought you burned down the house.’”
The threats forced Anthony to mature quickly. He became the adult figure for his siblings, making sure that they didn’t speak up or lash out.
At the foster home, they would ask the siblings if they wanted to return to their grandmother, and the answer was simple: no. Anthony had one place he wanted to be, that being with his grandfather.
Each day, couples would walk through the home and children would get excited over the idea of being taken to a real home. However, Anthony and his siblings didn’t want to be adopted — they wanted to be together. One day, his grandfather came and told Anthony that he and his wife had adopted Anthony, and all he could do was ask, “what about my siblings?”
But they could only take him. Anthony left the home without saying goodbye to his siblings.
His grandfather and step-grandmother quickly became his new guardians, giving him the care and affection that he had been deprived of throughout his early years. “Instantly when I lived with my grandparents, everything drastically changed. I was going to school everyday,” he said. Anthony became a normal student, a normal child who attended school and began playing sports with the neighborhood kids.
“I always saw how happy it made [his grandfather], and he would always say like ‘come here little buddy, you’re doing so good,’ and ‘you look so good out there.’”
Anthony began playing competitive football in the sixth grade. His grandfather helped him to join a team and build his confidence in the sport that made them so close.
“I really enjoy football, but I enjoy seeing how happy it makes my grandfather and seeing the look in his eyes, how he still feels young.”
“When he raised my mom, he almost feels like he didn’t do it right because of the way she turned out and the whole situation,” Anthony said. “I feel like he’s gotten a second chance to raise a kid with me, and doing right by me, and seeing all of the accomplishments I’ve had.”
The addition of football to both Anthony and his grandfather’s lives gave them hope and created a bond that could never be broken. His grandfather helped him to realize his dream of playing football in college. He played football throughout high school, and began getting calls from schools like UCF. But following an injury, everything changed. He lost his confidence and became depressed. Anthony didn’t believe he would be able to play the sport that had so drastically changed his life for the better.
“I remember [my grandfather] sitting me down and he told me that everything happens for a reason and you have to trust God and trust everything he puts you through and then at that point I didn’t really want to play anymore,” he said. “Then I went to a local all-star game and I was playing, there was a photographer from Marist who got in touch with the coaches, and that’s how I wound up coming here.”
Anthony’s grandfather helped him to realize that he couldn’t give up on his dreams and he had to keep pushing. Through, that he wound up playing for a Division I college for four — soon to be five — years.
Anthony’s grandfather was one of the biggest influences for his decision to come back for his fifth year in the 2019-2020 season. “I saw how happy it made him and how passionate he still was about it, and it got me passionate again, and I didn’t really want to let it go for now.”
Olivencia will return for a fifth year with high hopes for his team, and for himself. Hoping to continue his success that he had for the 2018-2019 season, he plans to help be a leader for the team and eventually help others who face the same issues that he once did.
After his graduation Anthony hopes to work for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a drug enforcement officer, working with drug dogs to help take illegal substances off the streets and prevent families from being torn apart as his once was.
His siblings weren’t initially as lucky as he was. His two brothers had been sent back to his grandmother for a short time before being sent to live with one of their aunts. Their sister was sent to another aunt, and their 1-year-old brother was adopted by a family.
“I was eight or nine and I didn’t understand it, but now I am 23 and obviously I know my baby brother is somewhere out there. And when I’m older I am definitely going to try to relink with him if they allow me.”
Given the opportunity to start over and live the life of a normal child, with a hope for the future and a plan for his life, Anthony was given a second chance. And so was his grandfather.
“He’s very proud of me, and he’s done right this time around. He doesn’t feel like he failed himself; he’s almost succeeded in life because he got a second chance at it.”
Edited by the Center Field Editorial Team.
Header image by Kristin Flanigan.