Story and photos by Mada Mendoza
For the second consecutive season, an ambitious 2015 Granger High boys soccer team is on the verge postseason participation. It all comes as part of a rebuilding process for head coach Hyrum Okeson.
Prior to the 2014 season, a 2010 team that reached the state semifinals was the last group of Lancers to see the playoffs, but with the arrival of Uriel Heredia and Aureliano “Nacho” Rubio and the rest of a talented class that graduates this year, Okeson was positioned to change the tone.
“Granger’s soccer team was in a rebuilding process, and the class of 2015 came aboard as freshmen and brought with them a lot of talent and excitement for the sport,” Okeson said.
The rebuilding process wasn’t easy for Okeson. He had to teach his players how to be competitive and how to win close games and overtime games. He added extra games in their off-season and also morning workouts both with and without a ball.
“Uriel, Nacho and the rest of the team have grown tremendously through this process,” Okeson said.
In Heredia’s first high school game ever he scored four goals, but things didn’t always come as easy as the expectations that followed. He and Rubio have grown together, and now this duo carries a heavy piece of the scoring load at Granger.
“Uriel struggled his sophomore year with the pressure of being such a talented player, but he has grown and has learned how to handle that pressure,” Okeson said. “Rubio has grown leaps and bounds due to his hard work which is an example of the entire team in general.”
A game this year at West was the best this team has played, showing the growth in this group. The Lancers have struggled to beat West, but a 3-1 victory this time was good for the growth of the program.
“The seniors wanted to make history,” Okeson said.
The Lancers didn’t get off to a great start. West was leading 1-0 until Heredia took a rocket shot from 18 yards. The keeper managed to stop it, but he spilled it and Rubio worked hard and followed the ball in to score. In the second half, Heredia put away a penalty kick that gave Granger the lead.
“Uriel is very relaxed under pressure,” Okeson said.
Just four minutes later Rubio scored by chipping the keeper and showed how far he has come technically with soccer.
Soccer has been a part of the Rubio family for a long time. Just like his brother, Aureliano Rubio fell in love with the sport as well.
“My brother introduced me to soccer,” Rubio said.
His brother played for the Granger soccer team, and although his brother got him started with soccer, that wasn’t Rubio’s only motivation. As soon as he started playing, he fell in love with the sport. Rubio started playing when he was seven or eight years old.
“I have always found myself putting in extra work and time into this sport, because I wanted to be the best player for myself and also my team,” Rubio, who is moving on to college soccer and hopes that one day he will get the chance to go pro, said. “Getting paid to play the sport that you love is the dream.”
Rubio and Heredia are both very talented soccer players, but they are different. However, like Rubio, Heredia was inspired to play by someone who has tremendous impact on his life.
“My dad was a soccer player and he inspired me to play,” said Heredia, who started playing at the age of four. “My dad told always told me I had skill because I always managed to score, but that I was also different from the other players.”
Although Heredia had the skill, he never stopped working hard because there is always room for improvement. Heredia is going to the next level to play college soccer. He hopes he has the opportunity to play professionally.
“Uriel Heredia is the most technically gifted soccer played I have ever coached,” Okeson said. “He can basically do anything he wants with a soccer ball.”
Although Heredia has fantastic skill, he is still very humble with the soccer ball.
“This year he has put the success of the team before his own glory,” Okeson said. “Heredia has every skill needed to play at the next level, but it all depends on him.”
Heredia is an amazing offensive player, but Coach Okeson looks for a lot more than just someone who can score goals.
“Ari Rubio is a very different player than Uriel,” Okeson said. “He has become a very technical player on the soccer field, but has only shown consistency with his technique this year.”
Rubio is a very hard working player and any coach would be pleased to have him for that reason. Rubio is willing to do anything the coach asks.
“His work ethic is the reason Ari scores goals and succeeds,” Okeson said.
Rubio’s teammates call on his hard work on and off the field. His love for the game is contagious.
“He is more of a silent leader,” Okeson said. “He isn’t the one to get in your face, but simply works a lot harder and his teammates seem to follow.”