Two collegiate futures were secured Tuesday, April 27.
Gainesville’s Abraham Saenz and Cesar Garcia each signed national letters of intent to play soccer for National Park College in Arkansas.
Saenz said he was really emotional being surrounded by his family as he signed and he wasn’t taking this moment for granted, especially as the first of his family to go to college.
“Just knowing we had a chance to go to state and it ended was tough but having my friends and family here watching me sign was very emotional for me,” Saenz said.
After the Leopards were eliminated in the third round of the playoffs, Saenz admitted how disappointed he was, but being able to extend his soccer career helped sooth some of that pain away.
“At the end of the season, I felt down and I didn’t really want to play college soccer, but after our playoff game a coach texted me and offered me,” Saenz said. “So I took the chance and took the offer. It really means a lot to me because I’m the first in my family to go to college. It means the world to me. It’s different from high school, so it’s pretty cool to get the chance to play college soccer.”
Head coach Danny Franco said Saenz’s work ethic stood out to him and he knows he will fit in well at the college level.
“He’s a three-year varsity player and I made him play defense, but he kind of grew into that role last year and this year,” Franco said. “He’s always someone you can rely on. He never had an attitude. He was an overall good player. He’s always working hard and willing to get in the play.”
Franco said the defender was a key cog on the team that went undefeated in district play.
“With the ball at his feet or keeping the ball, he was always good defending,” Franco said.
Saenz said he knows he has to work on his strength, conditioning and speed if he is going to hang with the college game.
“The pace from high school to college is way different,” Saenz said. “It will be fun to put that work in during the summer.”
Garcia is also the first in his family to go to college, so being able to do so and play soccer at the same time was extremely important to him.
“It’s a really special moment that doesn’t happen every day,” Garcia said. “It’s a once and a lifetime type of thing. I’m happy and excited. I got the chance and decided to take it. It’s really important to go to college and it’s an example for my family and younger brothers. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Garcia was the Leopards’ captain and while Franco said he wasn’t a loud leader, he could always be found helping his teammates.
“I kind of threw him into a midfield and defending role, but this year he made a big transition to being vocal,” Franco said. “His leadership is something we will miss for sure. He wouldn’t yell, but he would always talk to the guys on the side. He was vocal in his own way and he always took the younger guys under his wing. His leadership will be hard to replace next year.”
Garcia also knows he has work to do to get ready for college soccer. Franco said his ball control and speed of play will set him apart from his college teammates.
“It’s a pretty cool college and being able to go with Abraham is great because we can train together,” Garcia said. “We have been playing together since middle school. I think it’s going to take a lot of work, but it’s always been like that. I’ll get there. I’m really excited. I need to work on my speed too and get bigger.”