Not Just a Kid: Soccer Star Jose Garcia Matures On and Off the Field

Jose Garcia is a star on the soccer field, but a childhood that forced him to grow up quickly keeps him humble.

On a bright afternoon in late July, the Roosevelt senior sits in an office chair evading the blinding rays slicing through the glass in the doors at the front entrance of the Lillian and Larry Goodman Center.

He dons a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Just A Kid From Wheeling” on the front.

The shirt pares down the complexities of his life into a humble statement. It matches Garcia’s quiet personality perfectly, a summary of a young man who never proclaims his athletic greatness and lofty aspirations, in spite of those qualities being apparent to those who see him in action.

He Is Not Just A Kid.

Garcia recorded 15 goals and 15 assists in his first year at Roosevelt, and was named CCAC Freshman of the Year.

One of the most prolific offensive players to don a Roosevelt University men’s soccer uniform, Garcia is one of the most talented student-athletes in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) and one of the top seniors across the country in his sport.

Though Garcia is 5-foot-8-inches tall, his play stands much more like a giant. It hovers noticeably for its creative quickness that lures a mass of opposing players his way but leaves them disenfranchised when their pursuits cannot capture possession from his swift, sweeping feet.

His ability to make teammates better by finding them in opportune spots that defenders can’t account for is uncanny, and his nose for netting goals both clutch and curvaceous in their elusive trajectories are the stuff that sports highlight shows are made to showcase.

Since his arrival at Roosevelt in 2014, Garcia has tallied 31 goals and 26 assists in just 45 matches. He lost most of his junior year in 2016 due to a preseason Jones fracture in his left foot. However, his freshman season was a debut for the ages. Bagging 15 goals and 15 assists, he was named CCAC’s Freshman of the Year.

His encore performance featured slightly fewer statistical quantities, netting 13 goals and 10 assists as defenses keyed on his whereabouts even more, but Garcia’s wizardry as the quarterback of Roosevelt’s attack led the Lakers to historic firsts: CCAC regular season and tournament titles, and a bid to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championship tournament.

“I do whatever I can to help out my teammates, I do whatever leads to winning.”

Jose Garcia (BA, ’18

“I do whatever I can to help out my teammates,” Garcia says when asked to describe his playing style. “I do whatever leads to winning.”

He Is Not Just A Kid.

While a young 21 years old, Garcia had to mature quickly at an even earlier age. “When I was about 12 or 13, it was just me, my sisters and my mom,” Garcia says. “My dad left. It was bad at the time. I became the father figure for my sisters.”

While his mom provided for the family, working nights at a local factory and often putting in 14-hour shifts to make ends meet, Garcia balanced the tremendous weight of being the man of the house before he got to high school.

Keeping his mind off this difficult situation was his favorite sport. Soccer was ingrained in him since the age of three, its seed planted by his dad when the Garcia family resided in the central Mexican city of Zacatecas.

Young Jose dribbled with his father and his dad’s friends in an environment that eats, sleeps and breathes fútbol, starting a tradition in which Garcia would cultivate his passion and skills for soccer by watching and playing the game with men who were years, even decades, older then he was.

The Garcias moved to Wheeling, Illinois when Jose was seven years old. Four years later, Garcia started playing organized soccer for the first time, joining the Real Cerezo club based in the northwest Chicago suburb.

As he picked up the sport, learning from a cornucopia of people ranging from local coaches and players to the game’s greats that he watched on TV, Garcia did not veer off course in spite of the eventual departure of his father.

He continued to embrace the game and the countless hours of work and practice that made his performance better. Garcia may have lost the presence of his father, but he didn’t lose love for the game or motivation to learn from elders.

He’d still head to the park and play soccer with anyone in the vicinity. He’d still voraciously consume any game broadcast on TV, whether it featured Mexican National Team legend and former Chicago Fire star Cuauhtémoc Blanco, or Lionel Messi and his Barcelona brethren. He’d play street soccer, transitioning from traditional natural grass surfaces or artificial turf fields to the unforgiving smoothness of pavement laid for wheels. He’d notice his two older brothers taking on opposing players rather than just running away from them, their going around defenders, and smiling with the pure joy and fun of being in the moment.

His brothers left an impression on Garcia, who was hardened by a quicker transition to adulthood in order to be a man whom his three younger sisters wanted to emulate, just as he wanted to emulate his soccer influences. They made him curious about the wonders of what is known as a “beautiful game,” and helped concoct the current iteration of Jose Garcia in every facet of his life.

He Is Not Just A Kid.

Through Roosevelt’s first 17 games of the 2017 season, Garcia tallied 11 goals and 4 assists.

Garcia was not always an agile player. “When I was playing with my club, I was a little chunkier, a little fat,” Garcia admits with a smile. “My coach played me as a midfielder at first, but I told him I couldn’t run back and forth, so he switched me to forward so I could stay up front.”

Eventually Garcia shed the extra weight, growing into a slender athletic build armed with an evolved cardiovascular capacity that allowed him to return to midfield when he played for Wheeling High School. There, he excelled early on the freshman team before he helped turn around the varsity squad, leading it to an Illinois High School Association Class 3A championship match as a senior.

It was during the latter stages of a senior season, featuring plaudits ranging from All-State to Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year, that Garcia started to think seriously about playing in college.

Roosevelt head coach Graham Brennan thought he saw the cornerstone of his program, both on and off the pitch, in the Wheeling soccer stud. “Jose was very confident and respectful with a quiet demeanor during his senior year of high school,” Brennan recalled. “He had a team-first attitude and made everyone around him a better player and person.

“I coached one of the top club teams in the state at the time,” Brennan said. “We played Jose’s club team at the time [FC United] twice, tying both games with a combined score of 6-6. Jose scored five of the six goals in the two games. I was fully convinced at that time of how special a player he was.”

With many of his Wheeling teammates, such as goalkeeper Gary Mendoza and midfielder Marino Lopez, already committed to Roosevelt, Garcia’s familiarity and comfort level with the University only grew as Brennan made his recruiting pitch.

Along with the signing of other talented players, including future All-American Evan Trychta, Garcia was seen as a linchpin for a Lakers team built to win. Brennan convinced Garcia to sign with the Lakers, accelerating the flight of Roosevelt’s men’s soccer program to national prominence.

He Is Not Just A Kid.

Garcia celebrates one of his many goals.

While Garcia adapted to the next level of soccer seamlessly, tallying at least one goal and/or assist in each of his first nine matches, his acclimation to the rigors of a Roosevelt education was not easy. As the first member of his family to attend college, he had few places to turn for advice on the transition from high school to college. His 60-mile round-trip commute between Wheeling and downtown Chicago didn’t help.

Just as he did when he wanted to excel at soccer and set a good example for his sisters, he also did what he had to do to improve his academic standing. He put in the work. He saw how others excelled at academics and created a mix of approaches that helped him succeed.

“He developed the time management skills and study habits needed to be successful at a university,” Brennan said. “His results each semester continue to improve, and he finished as one of the top performers in the classroom this past spring on the men’s soccer roster.”

Part of the allure of Roosevelt for Garcia has been the criminal justice program. “Growing up in Wheeling, I knew a lot of people in trouble with police, gangbangers,” he says. “I really wanted to help them out, not just teenagers, but people of all ages who need advice to get out of the system.”

His introductory criminal justice course, taught by associate professor Tana McCoy, resonated with him. It piqued his interest in the field and elicited the same desire to improve that he displays in soccer.

“I love how she taught, what she believes about the criminal justice system, her experience, her smarts,” Garcia says of McCoy. “I love the whole department.”

Garcia’s post-college interests in criminal justice start with potential graduate studies and possible probation or parole-officer work. However, his lifelong goal centers on professional soccer. He has already tested potential pro prospects, including local and national tryouts in conjunction with Alianza de Futbol. He earned a chance as a finalist on Sueño Alianza, showcasing his talents against some of the nation’s top young players in front of representatives from Mexico’s top-tier clubs and Major League Soccer franchises in Florida.

During that experience in October 2014, Garcia went to a Telemundo TV set for an interview, and was surprised with a live satellite appearance by his father, who resides in Mexico. It was their first communication in nearly five years.

“It was nice to see his face and talk,” Garcia says of conversing with his dad on a giant screen that day, harboring no ill will for his father’s departure years ago. “In the end, for him to know I am doing well in life and in soccer is the best thing.”

He Is Not Just A Kid.

Entering his senior season, Garcia maintains a thirst to achieve grand results and feels he can spearhead a team effort worthy of hoisting a few more banners inside the Goodman Center gymnasium. “We have the team to make it to nationals and make a run at the national title,” Garcia says. “Personally, my goal is to be All-American, reach 20 to 30 goals, 15 assists. I have always set high standards. It makes me work hard for those goals.”

“If you’re not setting high standards, you’re going to get poor outcomes,” said Brennan, who thinks All-American status and CCAC Player of the Year are just some of the awards Garcia will earn if he is healthy and playing his best. Garcia is off to a fantastic start toward reaching those standards in 2017, scoring two goals in Roosevelt’s season-opening win over Marygrove on Aug. 22.
Both Garcia and Brennan are hoping for a prolonged postseason run. Beyond that, a pro-playing career for Garcia is the next high standard on their list.

Coaching soccer is also a possibility that could keep him immersed in the game, as he is already cutting his coaching teeth in another realm with his 18-year-old sister during her preparations for attending college.

“He shows an incredible drive to get better and improve every day. Hopefully, he will have an opportunity to play professional soccer, but I also believe he will be successful in any endeavor he pursues.”

Graham Brennan, Head Coach

“Jose is definitely gifted with the physical and mental abilities that come with the game of soccer,” Brennan said. “He shows an incredible drive to get better and improve every day. Hopefully, he will have an opportunity to play professional soccer, but I also believe he will be successful in any endeavor he pursues.”

He is not just a kid. He is not just a soccer player. 

Jose Garcia has long been a man worth emulating.

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