The five Calistoga boys soccer players didn’t have much time to spare.
Their game against Technology last Friday had just concluded. But for Jesus Rojas, Ignacio Mendoza, Christian Caldera, Joey Russo and Isaac Garcia, the evening was just getting started.
As fast as they could, they headed over to Calistoga High School, only a few blocks from the Logvy Park field where their soccer games are played, and changed out of their dirty jerseys and into their football pads.
They made it just in time for kickoff, following up their 5-0 win on the pitch with a 48-6 win on the gridiron.
Two games, both wins, in five hours? All in day’s work.
It was also one of the busiest yet for the five athletes playing the balancing act of being part of two time-intensive sports during the same season. Up until last Friday, the commitment of playing both soccer and football hadn’t been too challenging. Soccer games had been few and far between, allowing them to split their time fairly evenly between the two sports they all want to play.
Despite already being stretched thin, the five dual-sport athletes have led their teams to some great early-season success. As of Tuesday, the soccer team had won six games in a row and was 6-0-1 on the season. The football team had rattled off three straight wins to move to 3-1 on the year.
It’s impressed both first-year soccer head coach Charley Hester and football head coach Jim Klaczak.
“I’m always impressed every day by what these kids do,” Klaczak said. “The fact that they can play both and are staying eligible, it’s a testament to their resiliency. I don’t think it’s anything I’ve done. I don’t think it’s anything the soccer coach has done. This is all about the kids wanting to do something. I give them all the credit for this.”
Asked if he had seen anything like this, Hester was quick to answer.
“No. Never,” he said. “I can’t even imagine myself, at that age, being able to do that. I’d be beat.”
That’s not to say the five aren’t. These past two weeks have been the most challenging, with three soccer games scheduled each week with every other free moment devoted to football or schoolwork.
Starting on Sept. 23 and ending Oct. 4, the soccer team has had games on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They spend Tuesday and Thursday at football practice. Some of the five that play both even went above and beyond what they’re already doing.
“For us four, Jesus, Christian and Iggy, we go to the gym every night at like 9:30,” Garcia said.
On the nights they do make it to the gym, the rest of the night is spent catching up on homework – sometimes into the wee hours of thee morning.
“Any second I get, I’m doing homework,” Mendoza said.
Not to get lost in the shuffle of everything else they’re already doing, but the five say they all have GPAs above 3.0. They know if they want to keep doing what they’re doing, they need to stay eligible first and foremost.
Naturally, this is not an easy path to navigate.
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“It’s pretty difficult, honestly, trying to do both,” Russo said, “because it’s hard to balance practices and our grades in school because we obviously have to keep our grades up to play both.”
There are maybe more challenges for the coaches, too.
Hester said the soccer team has rarely practiced of late, simply because it doesn’t have the time nor the personnel.
“There are definitely some things that I’d like to be able to take them all aside and work on, some specific things, so that we can be as tuned as we can be,” he said. “But I only have so much time with them and I want them to do well in school, too.”
Meanwhile, Klaczak is trying to plot out a course for how the rest of the football season will realistically work out, and he’s having some trouble doing so. With the increased number of soccer games in the coming weeks, he’ll only be getting these five players – most of whom log heavy playing time – for a handful of practices every week.
He called the situation a “very intricate balancing act.”
“Going forward, I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to handle it,” he said. “But we’ll do the best we can and we’ll persevere.”
The easy question to ask about this whole situation is ‘why?’ Why do both? Why not make it easier for everyone involved and choose one sport to fully commit to?
If you ask the five, the answer is almost simpler than the question.
They do it because they want to. They elaborated, saying that if they weren’t constantly busy with sports or school or work, they wouldn’t have that same sense of fulfillment they do now.
“That’s why we do it,” Caldera said. “Because if we didn’t, we would feel like we aren’t doing anything productive.”
“It’s fun, too,” he added.
Yes, the path they’ve chosen is difficult, but they keep themselves so busy that they hardly notice.
“When you’re doing it, you don’t even really notice you’re doing it,” Caldera explained. “You don’t even notice until you sit down and start thinking about it. Then you realize how much you just did. When you’re doing it, you just do it.”
“Then at the end of the day you’re like, ‘Damn, I just did that,’” he said.
While only time will tell what new challenges this scenario presents, both Wildcats teams will continue to strive to build on the success they’ve already had. Both teams appear poised to compete for league titles this year, and possibly deep playoff runs.
“I feel like we’re doing alright,” Caldera said about where each team currently stands as the seasons enter the crucial second half. “At the same time, there’s room for improvement. We can get better at both sports. We haven’t really faced too many challenging teams other than the first game of football, even in soccer. So we’re still looking forward to the challenges to come in both sports.”