Dayton’s De Leon first with soccer scholarship
Gen. Colin Powell said, “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.”
It’s a mantra that Dayton senior Yeudiel De Leon took to heart and now the soccer player has realized his dream to go to college.
“This has been a dream come true for me. I’ve always wanted to go to college and play soccer and help another team win a title,” Yeudiel said.
He credits his new coach for helping him achieve that dream and going the extra mile, literally, to get him into college. But Coach Jed Garner points to Yeudiel’s determination to get to college as the real reason.
“He’s the hardest working kid that I’ve got,” Garner said. “He was raised well, a well-mannered kid and he’s real smart and works hard at everything he does. Yeudiel is a great leader for my program.”
Being the first in Dayton soccer history to get a scholarship is special to De Leon.
“It shows that everything that I did actually paid off,” he said. “I came to every practice, every day, I came early, and it paid off.”
In late April, Yeudiel received notice from Jarvis Christian University in Hawkins, Texas, not far from Longview, that he would join their squad this fall.
The journey to get there has been tough, but he made it with the help of his coach.
“We film all of our games and I sent some film to coaches around the state,” Garner said.
The coach also drove Yeudiel to six different camps and try-outs, filled out pages and pages of recruiting information forms.
In the end, Garner said the De Leon not only being an outstanding athlete and leader, but academically equipped, Jarvis Christian College wanted him.
“Within 24 hours of filling out their paperwork, Coach Jeremy Winzor at Jarvis had texted him to tell him he wanted him on the team,” Garner said proudly.
His scholarship pays for tuition, but he still has to pay for room and board. The senior isn’t worried about that obligation.
“I could still receive some additional [academic] scholarships that would pay for the rest of it,” he said.
And he’s determined to make an impact once he arrives on campus.
Garner says Jarvis Christian College is receiving a gem.
“He’s a great example of what hard work can do for you,” he said.
Garner says the younger players owe him a lot for taking them aside and helping them, teaching them the game.
And the coach said he’s been an institutional player in the short years of the program, establishing the foundation.
“He’s played more games, more minutes played, and has more assists than anybody else yet in the infancy of this program. That’s all solid contribution,” Garner said. “The fact that he does everything right each day and him being the first guy in our program to go to the next level, his long-lasting contribution will be the foundation that he set here for this program.”
He knows his records will fall once the program grows because he only had two years to set those records, but Garner said nothing could replace what he did to help build the program.
“It’s amazing to hear my coach talk about me like that,” De Leon said. “He really cares.”
The journey for Yeudiel has been all Dayton.
“I started playing when I was 7 years old, my dad had a team in the TVYSA (Trinity Valley Youth Sports Association), and I joined it,” he said. “We were lucky to get seven people to play but we always finished undefeated.”
Many of those same players Jose Garcia, Kevin Pineda, Jorge Avalos, and Aaron Avalos on that first team are teammates with him now on the Bronco squad.
With no team in junior high, De Leon played yard ball.
In his freshman year, he discovered there would be a soccer team organized at the school during his sophomore year.
“There were more than 100 kids that showed up,” he said. “It was nerve-wracking because I didn’t know if I would make it.”
Every year, including his senior year, he didn’t know if he would make the squad — especially with a new coach taking over the program.
He played midfield — left, right, and middle and sometimes the forward.
His only disappointment was injuries on the team kept them from advancing as far as they hoped.
“The team has gotten better every year and next year will be really good, too,” he said. “I hope to see how everybody grows.”
He said most of the time he and his friends played yard ball, never organized soccer.
“It was hard at first because you had to learn the positions. It was a lot more complicated,” he said.
You had to get used to playing with teammates — and trusting them.
There was no select ball. No money for that. Just a lot of desire and willingness to grow.
“Everything they would teach me here at school, I would memorize it and learn it at home outside.”
He spent hours outside his home, practicing, kicking the ball up, grabbing it, learning how to do everything with that ball.
He knew he needed a lot of reps to get better.
He will graduate in the top 20 percent of his class.
“I’ve also ran in cross country and track the last couple of years,” he said.
The running helped his endurance with the soccer game.
His dad, he said, was his biggest fan at every game and loud.
“Everybody pushed me and helped me, my friends, my family, my coaches,” he said humbly.
His dream now? To finish college.
“It will mean everything to me. Hopefully I’ll be able to repay them for everything,” he said.
Tops on his list when he graduates and gets a job is to buy his parents a new home or a new car.
He’s promised to come back and visit his alma mater and his coach.
“I really thank him for everything he’s done,” De Leon said. “Nobody really drives someone that far and spends that much money on somebody. That was an open door for me. To have a coach like that to help out shows he cares.”
His most important lesson he’s learned from his coach was that of hard work pays off.
“To have someone tell you to work hard every day and do everything you can, you can achieve your dream,” he said.