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Foothill League boys soccer preview: West Ranch's Justice Rodrigues, Back on the pitch

After taking six months off, W.R.’s Rodrigues is back to his favorite sport

Posted: January 5, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 5, 2013 2:00 a.m.

West Ranch senior Justice Rodrigues has been the captain of his freshman, JV and varsity Wildcats' soccer teams in his career.

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It was only when he spent some time away from soccer that Justice Rodrigues realized how much the sport meant to him.

The West Ranch senior took a six-month break from soccer earlier this year, which was his first significant time spent away from his favorite sport since he was 9 years old.

Now back on the field with a fresh start, he might be at his best.

“It was actually really good,” Rodrigues says of the break. “It was probably one of the best decisions I made. I lost a little touch and stuff like that, but it was definitely worth it. I had a lot of fun.”

After returning from a soccer hiatus, Rodrigues is as big, strong and powerful as he’s ever been.

The senior attacking midfielder has three goals and eight assists, which is good for a team-high in points so far in nine games this season.

In the fall, during his break from soccer, he joined West Ranch’s football team and became a place kicker.

It was there that he bulked up and improved his ball striking significantly. The improvements were noticed immediately by Wildcats head coach Fred McGinn.

“He’s got great pace because even with the muscle he’s put on over this past year or so, it hasn’t affected his pace. And then he’s got two great feet and this right here,” McGinn says as he gestures by moving his pointer fingers back and forth near his eyes.

McGinn explained that Rodrigues has good field vision.

That’s part of the reason the senior captain was moved from defending midfield last year to more of an attacking position this season.

Another reason was his newfound motivation.

“The fire came back,” says Mark Rodrigues, Justice’s dad. “I think he always loved (soccer) but I think it was one of those things where he needed a little break. So he took the break and he’s loving playing again. That’s for sure.”

For eight years, Justice spent 12 months out of each year playing soccer in one form or another — club level, high school level or in the backyard.

He played for a club called Santa Clarita United, which has since closed its doors.

At West Ranch, Justice was the captain of the freshman soccer team in ninth grade, captain of the JV team in 10th grade and now he’s captain of varsity.

This past spring, he chose to take a break to give himself mental and physical reprieve. In the meantime, he successfully converted two field goals and 16 point-after attempts for West Ranch football.

He hit the weights hard and practiced his shot over and over again, sometimes even doing soccer workouts on his own time.

“It’s kind of his thing. He’s a very focused, driven young kid without parental pushing,” Mark Rodrigues says. “He’s at the gym five days a week. He started doing that around 12 and he’s there all the time.”

And even after the six-month layoff, Justice hardly missed a beat when it came time for soccer season again.

“I didn’t lose too much. I actually gained a lot because football helped me gain size and speed and stuff like that,” Justice says. “I just had to get my technical side back.”

Perhaps most importantly, he got healthy during the time off. Due to muscle tightness in his lower back, Justice missed the bulk of Foothill League play last year, which was his first on varsity.

A person as passionate as Justice wasn’t about to risk losing out on his senior year.

It means way too much to him.

“That, to me, is instilled from the family,” McGinn says of Justice’s desire. “There’s no doubt. That’s something that you can’t teach.”

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