By Brian Eller - email@example.com
QUICKSBURG - As a freshman, Juan Flores was known simply as "five meals."
The first-year student at Stonewall Jackson was a team manager for the Generals' boys soccer team, but Flores himself wasn't exactly a walking billboard for fitness. Standing at just 5 feet 5 inches, Flores was a meaty 200 pounds and kids would joke that he ate five square meals a day. He could only watch the players from the sideline, but yearned to see time on the field.
At home he would tell his dad he was a player on the team, not out of shame of being a manager, but because that was where his passion demanded to be. Flores wanted to play soccer, not just offer towels to his fellow students and collect the game balls after a match. He wanted to suit up.
So Flores went to work, slimming down and honing his skills on the field. He had natural talent, and over time it began to show. By the time a year had passed Flores was on the team, this time with an actual jersey and number. The hard work continued and so did the results. As a senior this season, Flores got the nod as a starter and recently, all of his dedication and effort culminated with his dream. Flores announced on Monday that he, along with teammate Jose Garcia, will play soccer next fall at Potomac State College, becoming the first members of their respective families to attend college.
"Just knowing how it all started, ending up in college is such a great feeling," Flores said Monday. "Thanks to the hard work, that's where I am now. I didn't even know if I was going to be a starter on [the Generals]. All of the great people, everybody around me that never let me quit, I owe them. And knowing I'm the first one in my family going on to college is just crazy."
When Flores decided he wanted to pursue soccer beyond high school, he began searching for his opportunity. He didn't have to look far. Because soccer is a spring sport in the area, scouts were able to come out and see Flores play more often, and one person who took notice was Potomac State coach Ray Kiddy.
Kiddy was hired as the Catamounts' coach in January and immediately set out on the recruiting trail. In just its 10th season as a program, Potomac State's soccer team is still relatively new, but as Flores knows firsthand, the potential for success is there.
"[What sold me] was just soccer," Flores said. "Soccer was pretty much it. I just went with the first chance I got, and they're a great program."
With Flores committed to Potomac State, Kiddy was still looking for more talent and turned to his new recruit for help.
"I said to Juan, ÔWho's a player you have that's not picked up yet and that would make a great combination?'" Kiddy said.
The name Flores gave was his good friend, Garcia. Garcia is one of the top defenders for Stonewall Jackson, and fortunately for Kiddy, that was one position he needed to fill. With Kiddy set to offer Garcia a spot on the team, Flores went to his teammate to make sure this was what he wanted to do.
"I told him they were looking for players and I talked to the coach and I told [Jose], I said, ÔIf you get a phone call, don't let this go.'"
Garcia got that phone call, and taking his friend's advice, joined the Catamounts.
"It felt so good because now I can play more soccer and go to college," Garcia said Monday. "It's like two for the price of one."
With their commitments to Potomac State, Flores and Garcia join teammate Patrick Bain, who will play for Division I Longwood University next year, as the list of Stonewall players who get to continue their passion of playing soccer.
Talking to the duo, it's hard to tell whether the opportunity to play soccer or the chance to go to college makes them smile wider. One thing's for sure, however. Both Flores and Garcia know where they started, how hard they had to work to get here and the opportunity that lies before them.
"My parents told me they are really proud of me," Garcia said. "That's the best thing to hear."