A broken collarbone threatened to keep Harlingen South striker Leo Torres sidelined for his senior season.
Torres wasn’t going to let that happen. He worked hard to recover from the football injury, and after missing around 10 games, Torres came back strong. His leadership and skills made him a key part of the Hawks’ successful season.
Torres is the Valley Morning Star’s 2021 All-STAR Boys Soccer Most Valuable Player.
“It means a lot. It just shows the work I put in this season and the determination we had,” Torres said. “I think my teammates saw how hard I was working to get back and how successful I wanted our team to be, and I think it pushed them to want more. The determination I showed on the field, the heart, (made the difference).”
Torres was voted District 32-6A MVP, too. Though he’s not the first South player to earn the title, Hawks coach Julian Robles said Torres set himself apart from previous standouts.
“His impact on the team was incredible,” Robles said. “We’ve had some great players … in the times I’ve been here, also MVPs of the district. But Leo has cemented his own legacy in the history books for Harlingen South varsity soccer.
“He’d lead by example. He is very coachable,” he continued. “He’s willing to do whatever the team needs to win. He has speed, vision and ability to finish plays. He has a tremendous leg. He’s an outstanding player and student.”
Torres feels his “speed, creativity and determination” come together to make him a great player. He was glad to have a big impact throughout the season, but a standout moment for him was scoring the tying goal in South’s overtime bi-district victory with five minutes on the clock.
His time at South taught Torres to strive for big things and not settle for less, a lesson he’ll carry with him when his career continues at Ranger College. He knows it’s a big jump, but he’s motivated by the mark he left at South that he can succeed in college, too.
“There’s been a lot of good guys in the South program recently, so it means a lot to be put in the same category and get noticed like those guys and leave an impact as well,” Torres said. “These awards are more mental, to show me that what I’m doing is working and to just keep going and get ready for what’s coming. I want to thank all the coaches, a few players that I remember from the past like Jose Lerma, my parents, teammates. A lot of people have been there for me.”
Offensive Player of the Year
Angel Flores, Harlingen High
Flores, a senior, tried to lead his team in a difficult season and was the Cardinals’ top scorer, contributing 15 goals on the year. Flores is a Ranger College signee.
“It means a lot to me. I’m glad to be part of this team. Being the leading scorer of the team, everybody was just trying to be consistent even though nothing was ever easy,” Flores said. “We always helped each other just to score goals. I did everything I could do to the best of my abilities.”
One of Flores’ favorite games this year was his three-goal outing against Weslaco High. He said the strong performance “lit that fire to go harder in the rest of the season.”
As Flores prepares for his college career, he said this award and the lessons and support he received while playing for Harlingen High give him confidence that he’s ready for his next journey.
“It gives me plenty of motivation. It’s something not a lot of people get to have, and I’m excited for this opportunity,” Flores said. “The coaches were always there and always had faith, always believed in me. (I learned) try to do the best you can in everything you do. I just want to thank my mom, my family, everybody I can think of. My coaches, my teachers, I really needed their help. The people I played with always wanted to win. Now that I’m moving on, I wish the best for the people coming up and I want to get as far as I can.”
Defensive Player of the Year
Joaquin Ovalle, Harlingen South
It doesn’t take long for one to recognize the fire that Ovalle plays with every game.
South coach Julian Robles said the junior’s “hustle and love for the game” is fuel for his teammates, and by him giving 100 percent effort every day he pushes those around him. Ovalle’s efforts helped the Hawks have a strong 24-3 season.
“It feels awesome to be defensive player of the year. I was shocked, but I’m excited,” Ovalle said. “I just play my heart out for the team. I don’t have to be a selfish player. I try my best so the other players can see that and try their best, too.”
Ovalle said his love for the sport and his family are what drives him. He said his family loves to watch him play, and to thank them for all they do to help him “play everywhere,” he leaves it all on the field every time to make them proud.
The defender is as dedicated as they come to his craft, and Robles said Ovalle is going to be a good leader for the team next season. Ovalle said it’s a lot of pressure, good pressure, to have this award under his belt and be expected to step up and lead the team. But he’s ready for the task and willing to do the work to continue getting better.
“I go to practice every day and practice any time I have. I skip parties, I skip dances and all that just to get practice in. I learned how to be a coachable player and do what the team needs me to do,” Ovalle said. “(Next season) I have to step it up even more.”
Newcomer of the Year
Obed Diaz, San Benito
Diaz, a junior, made the most of his one and only year playing for the San Benito Greyhounds.
Diaz transferred in and immediately showed he could be an asset to the team. It took some time to get acquainted with his new environment, but once he did, Diaz was productive. He scored 16 goals and recorded eight assists.
“I’m happy for it because I’m always trying to be the best, always trying to win. Even though we didn’t win a lot this year, I was always doing my best,” Diaz said. “Everywhere I go I play soccer because I love soccer. The way they play, at first it was a little hard. It took me a couple games to get used to it and then I got better at a different playing style.”
As a striker, Diaz said he always tries to score a lot of goals and create plays. He believed his ability to read the game and play without the ball helped him quickly earn a starting spot and produce with the Greyhounds.
Diaz is now living in Maryland, but he said he enjoyed the year he spent in San Benito and expressed gratitude to coach William Huerta and his family for helping him grow as a player, person and student.
“I’m not a person who talks a lot, but I had to push myself because without speaking the team wouldn’t work. Communicating with the team and being consistent with training helped me with scoring and assisting,” Flores said. “I’m thankful for the Huerta family. They were always there for me. They helped me, and I’m really grateful for them. I was in a bad stretch, and they put me in a good position where I’m thinking right. I started being more responsible and doing my work.”
Coach of the Year
Julian Robles, Harlingen South
The 2020-21 season was not easy on Robles, but he never waivered.
There were highs, like watching his Hawks battle for an overtime bi-district victory, erasing an early deficit in a classic Bird Bowl and earning his 100th career win. But the year also brought “a lot of tragedies,” including the passing of his father-in-law and his own health concerns.
“When we had some time to cool down after the season, it really hit me hard, everything we went through and the season’s ups and downs,” Robles said. “It was pretty difficult. At that time, the team needed me to be strong, and my family needed me and I had to be the center figure. It was a tough year, and I’m glad that I was able to work for the kids and make them better.”
Robles navigated the challenges and got his team through a strange offseason. He coached the Hawks to a 24-3 record and the second round of the postseason.
He credited his players and assistant coaches for South’s success and helping him through the difficulties. Robles praised the work everyone put in to make up for lost time due to the pandemic and said his coaching award is a reflection of those around him.
“Team chemistry was everything this year. The environment was very positive,” Robles said. “It’s a great honor, and it’s about the fact that the student-athletes put in a lot of hard work. I can’t say enough about my assistant coaches, they also put in a lot of hard work. It’s a combination of everybody, and I accept this award on their behalf.”