Collegiate soccer goal comes to fruitionWhen senior Nathan Sepulveda started soccer, he was simply trying out a sport, like everyone does when they‚Äôre young in hopes of discovering some extraordinary talent. However, while most never get beyond brightly-colored pinnies in their local park, Sepulveda managed to swap his for a brightly-colored jersey that he will wear all the way to Saint Mary‚Äôs College of California (SMC), a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I college in Moraga, 400 miles away from his local park.
Sepulveda was first scouted by San Diego State University (SDSU) for an opportunity to play in the NCAA Division I league, the highest level of intercollegiate athletics in the United States. Because of circumstances relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sepulveda was then referred to the head coach at SMC, who offered Sepulveda a $30,000 scholarship and position at the school after reviewing some video highlights of his soccer competitions and showcases.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a very proud moment because all the hard work that I‚Äôve put into soccer paid off. Not many people get the chance to play Division I soccer, or any soccer in college, so it was definitely a proud moment for myself,‚ÄĚ Sepulveda said. ‚ÄúThe fact that I am able to further my career in soccer by playing in it college is awesome.‚ÄĚ
Sepulveda chose SMC after communicating with coaches from other schools like Georgetown, Yale, Amherst, University of San Francisco (UCF) and University of California Irvine (UCI). He made this decision because of the school‚Äôs location and highly-ranked soccer program, which he feels will help him achieve his goal of becoming a professional soccer player.
‚Äú[SMC] is like a home away from home, it has a very Walnut atmosphere. It‚Äôs near the city but it‚Äôs also like its own little mellow area where nothing crazy is going on,‚ÄĚ Sepulveda said. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre [also] very good at soccer. I felt that they had a really good dynamic within the team. The head coach reached out to me and let me know that he liked how I played and that he thought I would fit the system. He was just very welcoming and made me feel more at home.‚ÄĚ
Sepulveda‚Äôs jersey is emblazoned with the number 6, showing his position as the defensive center midfielder. It is a position he has been playing his whole life and one he plans to continue at college, which is why Sepulveda has continued socially-distanced practices with his club, FC Golden State, during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also participates in individual training with his friend and younger brother to sharpen his skills.
¬†‚ÄúDuring quarantine, we‚Äôve been going out basically every single day to play soccer,‚ÄĚ Sepulveda said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs our common ground [because] we‚Äôre always pushing each other and competing to get the best out of each other.‚ÄĚ
The exercises they do focus on fitness, like sprints, long-distance running and lifting weights. They also practice technical aspects through footwork exercises and dribbling and shooting drills.
‚Äú[Soccer] is very time consuming and it‚Äôs a lot harder than previous years,‚ÄĚ Sepulveda said. ‚Äú[But] the whole dedication and commitment side is really important because if you want to be great at anything, you have to have those two things. You have to make sacrifices for something that you really enjoy doing.‚ÄĚ
Sepulveda, now in his 14th year of playing soccer, likes best the team nature of the sport and how it has helped him learn dedication and problem-solving, which is why he wants to continue playing soccer in college.
‚Äú[My teammates and I] have that bond because we practice four times a week. We‚Äôre always with each other so it‚Äôs almost like a brotherhood,‚ÄĚ Sepulveda said. ‚ÄúOur families have gotten close as well so especially during quarantine, we‚Äôre just checking up on each other and making sure everyone‚Äôs okay.‚ÄĚ
Since soccer is a competitive sport, Sepulveda also had to learn how to handle the pressure that comes naturally with competition. However, after years of experience, he has come to enjoy the thrill of a high-stakes situation.
¬†‚ÄúBefore, when I was younger, I would struggle with it. But now, I just know I trust myself and I have confidence in myself that I can perform at that level,‚ÄĚ Sepulveda said. ‚ÄúAt one game, there were hundreds of scouts. It was crazy and you get a rush when you‚Äôre playing, knowing that there are so many people [that can give] you opportunities.
Recently, Sepulveda decided to apply the lessons he learned while playing soccer to other areas in his life and enrolled in the course Leadership at school.
‚ÄúThe things I learned through soccer, like being a team player, just helped me build that kind of personality,‚ÄĚ Sepulveda said. ‚ÄúIt helped me get into [Leadership] and really sets me up for the real world once I‚Äôm out of high school.‚ÄĚ
Sepulveda spent his summer running a free camp for children from ages 6-12 to train them in soccer. One of Sepulveda‚Äôs favorite memories in his soccer career involved working with these children and teaching them the value of the sport.
‚ÄúA couple of weeks into the training, a kid came up to me and they‚Äôre like, ‚ÄėI really appreciate what you‚Äôre doing [by] giving up the time [to teach us].‚Äô They said they were actually getting better and that they enjoyed soccer more,‚ÄĚ Sepulveda said. ‚ÄúThat made my day because knowing that you had an impact on someone else‚Äôs life, especially someone that young, was awesome.‚ÄĚ
Sepulveda began playing soccer at the recreational level when he was 4 years old. As a freshman, Sepulveda was accepted to the boys varsity soccer team, becoming the only underclassman and youngest on the team that year.
‚ÄúIt definitely gave me a confidence booster [and] it made me believe in myself more because I was excelling at the high school level as a freshman,‚ÄĚ Sepulveda said. ‚ÄúOverall I talk to those guys still to this day, so it was just a good bonding experience.‚ÄĚ
During his sophomore year, Sepulveda left the school soccer team for the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy. Known as Academy for short, it is a highly competitive soccer league that encompasses competitions and showcases, like the biannual Developmental Academy (DA) Showcase, which takes place in San Diego in the summer and Florida in the winter.
‚ÄúMy goal in life is to travel all over the world so [traveling for the DA Showcase] helped out with that,‚ÄĚ Sepulveda said. ‚ÄúThat was probably the best part about those showcases. It was a great experience that I really liked.‚ÄĚ
Sepulveda has already committed to Saint Mary‚Äôs College of California, where he will be majoring in business and competing in the NCAA Division I Men‚Äôs Soccer West Coast Conference, which fits into his plans of becoming a professional soccer player in the future.
‚ÄúI see it as something that‚Äôs achievable [if] I give it my all and practice every opportunity I get,‚ÄĚ Sepulveda said. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs that saying that goes ‚Äėyou never work a day in your life if you love what you‚Äôre doing,‚Äô [and] soccer is something I‚Äôm really passionate about.
By Cathy Li, Staff writer
Photos courtesy of Nathan Sepulveda