by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
Coming into his junior season, Sonora soccer player Eli Rico-Torres had to endure a tough lesson before he could enjoy success on the field.
After missing the preseason, his teammates have to be happy that he responded well to the adversity as he scored five goals in two games last week, including a four-goal outburst against city rival La Habra.
“As a forward, I’m always thirsty to score,” Eli said. “When I got one in extra time [against Buena Park], it really boosted my moral going into Friday against La Habra. We got into a rhythm, I was able to score and then I just kept scoring. I felt pretty lucky that day and I’m hoping it carries on against Sunny Hills on Wednesday.”
The Raiders have looked more dynamic in the offensive third during league play, which has helped in leading to a 2-1-1 start.
Eli’s speed and finishing ability have helped to make the Raiders much more dangerous. In addition, he showcases an ability to help set his teammates up for open looks.
“I’ve really been impressed this entire year by his unselfishness,” said Cory Witt, Sonora head coach. “In our game against Buena Park, what doesn’t go on the stat sheet is that he set up our two potential game winners, which means he’s working to get his teammates involved and taking advantage of his opportunities.”
The Raiders’ top scorer a year ago, Eli has been working on his craft since he was three years old and has been on varsity during all three years of his high school career.
Before games, the junior often listens to music and tries to get into a calm state, focusing on what needs to be done in order to win the game.
“When you’re in club, it’s different because you have more time to think,” Eli said. “But coming out of class, I just try to get my mind set and think every day you’re going to win no matter who you’re playing.”
Before the season, Witt limited the number of games Sonora played so that the team could stay hungry and focus on the Freeway League.
However, Eli’s hunger to get onto the field was intensified after he was deemed academically ineligible for the preseason.
But being ruled out on the field made Eli realize how important it was to keep up with his studies in the classroom.
“It meant a lot, I was talking to all my teachers and everyone tells me that I have the potential to play in college, but none of that happens unless you have the grades,” he said. “If you want to play and you want to help the team, you have to keep up with the schoolwork. That’s the way it works.”
Despite not playing, Eli went to all of his team’s nonleague games and watched from the bench. His first game back was the team’s league opener against Troy.
“I was so happy to get back, I was sitting on the bench, I went to every single preseason game and we didn’t do so hot, which was devastating because I knew it was partially my fault,” he said. “I’m one of the older players on the team and I needed to get back and play. That was my fault, grade-wise.”
He and his teammates weren’t the only ones happy to see Eli back on the field.
“Ultimately, he provides the presence up top where you have to pay attention,” Witt said. “Sometimes it can work as a distraction and sometimes it helps when he can do his thing. It helps having that kind of player that has that sort of presence because you have to pay attention. With Eli, it’s always been a confidence thing…he had a breakout week, which was good for him and for us.”
For Eli, the academic suspension served as a lesson that he has taken seriously.
The junior also has a support system for his academic success, including English Teacher Janet Yeandle, who Eli said has been a mentor and has pushed him to continue to work on his studies.
English, coincidentally enough, happens to be one of Eli’s favorite subjects, adding that he likes to write. Physiology also makes the list of enjoyable subjects as he loves learning about the body and how the muscles work.
Eli says that he now gets most of his homework done before practice, which leaves his mind free to focus on honing his skills during practice.
In addition, he has the help of his mother at home, who also pushes his academic success, his personal growth and is one of his biggest role models.
In terms of his performance on the field, Eli’s role model is Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Everyone’s going to hate me for this one,” he said with a laugh. “He’s my favorite player. I’m always watching Real Madrid, watching him play and scoring goals, he doesn’t stop scoring and always plays for his team. Even though he just won the Balon De Oro (Golden Ball), you hear him talk and he’ll say ‘None of this would have happened without my teammates and my coaches.’ I want to be a player like that.”
When Eli has free time, he enjoys listening to music, working on artwork or playing video games. Not surprising, he loves playing the FIFA franchise.
While his big accomplishments are seen on the soccer field, perhaps Eli’s biggest achievement this year has been putting a plan in place and creating a support system to make sure he stays on top of his studies.
That goal will help Eli stay on the field, and while his time is cut short for this season, he still has one more to accomplish a small personal goal amongst those he has for the team.
“I just want us to win league, I want to go to CIF, that would be really exciting for me and the team,” he said. “Of course, I also want to score as many goals as possible and beat Coach Witt’s record of 24 goals in a season. To do that would be cool.”
While scoring three or four goals per game for the rest of this year may be challenging, if Eli continues to keep up with his studies, Witt may be sweating it out next year.