When it came time to prepare a speech to give at a celebration of life event held in honor of Jake Solley, a former Valencia student-athlete, Conner White had no trouble recalling anecdotes that described Solley.
“I had to actually get rid of some stories in order to … I didn’t want to take up too much time in there because every interaction with Jake was a story,” White said. “So I had a bunch of stuff written down and we’d take stuff out.”
White, who attended Valencia High School with Solley and later joined the U.S. Marine Corps with him in 2013, was one of many attendees in a standing-room-only crowd that filled Valencia’s theater on Saturday afternoon.
Solley, who died nearly three weeks ago while on active duty as a sergeant, was a standout football player for the Vikings and graduated in 2012.
“People drove out from all across the country, Marines and friends from his football team,” White said. “There’s people talking about they’ve only met him once or twice and they’re getting up there and speaking, it just shows the impact that Jake had on everybody.”
Several Marines, former teachers and friends spoke of Solley’s heart, dependability and sense of humor in a dim theater filled with portraits of Solley, candles and roses – his favorite flower.
Valencia football coach Larry Muir, who fought back tears after taking the microphone, told of how invested Solley was in the football program, often checking in to make sure the coach wasn’t “getting soft” with his team and volunteering to work out the players.
“He made me contemplate continuing to play football,” said Tariq Speights, a former Viking football player who endured a Solley workout.
The afternoon was an endless stream of Solley stories that reflected his determination (he once had to lose 40 pounds in order to join the Marines with White as part of the “buddy program”) and the compassion he had for those he knew.
“He not only impacted his friends and family but the community and the Marine Corps,” said Dominick, Solley’s brother.
“He had people coming up here that didn’t necessarily know him that well, but still had made an impact and that just speaks volumes because a person like that only comes along every once in a while.”