by Rosie Sinapi
It took him four years and two colleges to find ULV, but now that junior football and soccer stand-out Juan Contreras has found a home in Leos’ hearts, he plans to stay here.
Besides playing two sports, Contreras says he has other reasons to stay. He wants to stay “basically to finish my degree, but the most important thing is do get my credits done. So, I plan to stay.”
To look at the 5-foot-6-inch football placekicker and soccer striker, anyone might easily mistake Contreras for just another face in the crowd. He is also a role model, father, husband, Spanish major and tutor.
He has always known that he wanted to play football and soccer even when he was a child in Mexico, where he was born and where his family still lives.
Contreras married his high school sweetheart, Rosa, back in 1990 and they have a three-year old daughter, Ruby. Juggling school, sports and a job leaves him little time for family. He feels that if he works hard now, it will pay off for his family later in life.
For the past 14 years, he has called the San Gabriel Valley home, except for the time he spent at Central State in Ohio during the 1991-92 school year.
According to Contreras, playing both sports has been his life.
“I’ve played soccer all my life… but I never stayed with them (club teams) for a long time because they’d all go down financially,” said Contreras.
Contreras was an award-winning placekicker at Rosemead High School, where he graduated in 1989. He is not shy to talk about his more than illustrious two seasons playing football in high school.
“It was in the CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) game when we played against Apple Valley and I kicked the winning field goal to go on to the next round. It was a 49-yard one.”
It is because of this kick and many other game winning kicks by Contreras that he feels kickers are important. It is also why he appreciates ULV for the team camaraderie in all sports.
“I consider kicking to be a big part of the game, some people don’t look at it that way, but I think so,” he said.
After high school, Contreras played for Rio Hondo College in Whittier for the 1990-91 season. He transferred to Central University of Ohio where he played for one season and was side-lined after financial aid problems for the 1993-94 season.
He choose ULV because it was close to home and he valued a team where every player was considered important.
Fans at ULV games cannot help but see him. Two weeks ago, he scored a goal in a soccer game and than went on to Azusa Pacific University Saturday night to kick five extra points and a 32-yard field goal.
Although Contreras plays both sports, he has given his word to Head Football Coach Rex Huigens to play football when there are soccer matches and football games scheduled on the same day.
“Juan’s an outstanding kicker. He’s the best kicker we’ve had. If he’s not, than he’s definitely one of them,” Huigens said. “He’s a great guy and a really hard worker. He has a very good work ethic.”
Soccer Head Coach Owen Wright appreciates Contreras’ devotion to both sports. “He called me and wanted to know if he could play both sports,” said Wright, “I wish that I had him full-time, but I know his priority is football,” said Wright.
Contreras hates to pick between soccer and football, but realizes that in the United States he has a better chance competing professionally as a placekicker rather than as a soccer player.
“Right now I can play football. I wasn’t planning on playing soccer, but it’s in my blood,”said Contreras. “My goal is to go professional (in football). That’s why I’ve been practicing for so long.”
Huigens and Wright both agree that Contreras could go professional in both sports.
“We had a kicker a couple of years ago… he played a while in the pros and Juan is just as good as he was, if not better,” Huigens said.
Wright feels that Contreras could also go pro in soccer, but unfortunately he would make little money. Wright said, “Pro soccer doesn’t put a lot of food on the table.”
According to Huigens, Contreras uses the same work ethic in football and in school. He feels this is needed to succeed. He is majoring in Spanish and minoring in Physical Education while tutoring at the Learning Enhancement Center.
“I wanted to teach Spanish and to teach (children) that Spanish is fun,” said Contreras. He feels that by tutoring, he will utilize his teaching skills.
He realizes that there are not many positive role models in the world. If he does go professional, he wants to be a role model.
“I had one, but now I’m trying to take his job,” said Contreras. “Tony Zendejas used to be my role model, but I got kind of mad, I tried to write him for advice, but he never wrote me back. I inspire myself and I want to inspire others.”
Contreras is enjoying his days at ULV for now. “These two years here will be good for me.”