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Hart's Uriel Rodriguez: Where he belongs

After sitting out last year, Hart senior puts differences aside for return in 2010-11 season

Posted: February 5, 2011 10:10 p.m.
Updated: February 5, 2011 10:10 p.m.

Hart forward Uriel Rodriguez leads the team with 11 goals this season, and has been paramount in a successful season so far.

 

Uriel Rodriguez couldn’t stand to watch his team lose last year.

Well, it wasn’t his team at the time. He was sitting out that season, his junior year.

All he could do is watch from the stands at Hart High School as the soccer team played out an 0-9-1 season in the Foothill League.

“I would go to the game and I would see them losing and that would get me to want to play,” Rodriguez says. “I kind of felt like I could go out and help the team.”

The senior forward has certainly delivered on the promise.

With a 6-1-1 record against Foothill opponents so far this year, the Indians are the top team in the league heading into the final two games of the regular season.

It’s quite a contrast from a year ago.

“He’s a fighter,” says Hart head coach Fausto Arana. “That’s one of the things that I like about him is the will to win.”

In fact, it was the will to win that brought the 18-year-old back into a Hart uniform this year, and now he leads the team with 11 goals.

After starting for the varsity team in both his freshman and sophomore years, Rodriguez decided to try to take his talents south of the border.

More specifically, he traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico, where he tried out for the Atlas Football Club the summer before his junior year.

Through the rain, the muddy field and the competition of professional soccer players, Rodriguez didn’t make the team.
“It kind of put him down a little bit,” says teammate and friend Andrew Trejo. “But his family told him a little bit, and I told him that he’s still young and he still has a lot of time.”

Rodriguez said he plans on trying out again, depending on whether or not he gets accepted into college.

In the meantime, he was without a soccer team. Because of the Atlas tryouts overlapping with the start of high school season, he wasn’t able to make Hart’s team either for the 2009-10 season.

Trejo, a senior midfielder who played varsity with Rodriguez his freshman year, opted not to play both his sophomore and junior year.

So there the two of them sat, watching from a distance and slowly building up motivation to return to the team and anchor what has proven to be a season of redemption for the Indians.

“It was hard for us to see them go out and lose every single game,” Trejo says.

At the conclusion of that season, the teammates came together and discussed their intentions for the following year.

According to Rodriguez, Hart’s sudden rise to the top wasn’t a surprise at all. It was a foregone conclusion.

“We were looking forward to this year a lot. We would talk about it,” Rodriguez says. “We would discuss every player, every position, how we would play. We would finally decide this is going to be a good team. We have the ability to win the league. We could make the playoffs.”

After a conversation like that, nothing was going to keep Rodriguez off the team — not even possible disharmony between him and the coaching staff.

When Arana took over the varsity program in 2008, Rodriguez was a sophomore.

Initially, Arana’s disciplinary style clashed with Rodriguez’s usual do-it-yourself style.

He wasn’t used to all the rules: If you miss class on game day, you can’t play. If you miss a practice, you can’t play in that week’s game. If you’re late to practice, the whole team is punished.

All these rules and concepts are built around working as a team, Arana says.

“Sometimes when they go into a new program, the coach’s philosophy is something that they don’t necessarily agree with,” Arana says. “My philosophy is to move the ball around, and it uses a lot more teamwork.”

A year of sitting out gave Rodriguez a new perspective, though.

He and Trejo both decided it was time to return to the team and finish what they had started in their freshman year.

“We know we can help this team out a lot,” Trejo says. “And we just decided that we should do it for our teammates.”
Both Rodriguez and Trejo rejoined the team, and in turn, rejoined the new coaching style.

“I remember the first meeting that we had,” Arana says of his reuniting with Rodriguez at the beginning of this season. “I talked to him and I said, ‘You know what I want. You know my philosophy.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’”

Since then, it’s been all smiles for the Hart contingent.

The ball movement, continuous passing and strong team communication that Arana talked about has worked.

And although he maintains his straight forward, almost icy demeanor on the field, Rodriguez has developed a working bond with his teammates.

“I trust each player on the team,” he says. “I wouldn’t be scared that any player would lose the ball. I know they can do it.”

As the season has progressed, opponents have begun to favor Rodriguez defensively with double teams and physical play.
Naturally, it opens up scoring opportunities for other players.

Sure, Rodriguez isn’t scoring as much as of late, but Hart is still winning, and Rodriguez is perfectly happy with that.

After all, that’s why he came back in the first place.

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