VMS All-STAR Boys Soccer: Bearkats’ Garcia a human highlight reel

HARLINGEN — Sometimes, the weight of the world rests on Raymondville senior Saul Garcia’s shoulders. But he makes it look easy.

On the gridiron, he booted field goals of 50 or more yards through the uprights with ease. On the soccer field, he scored 37 goals in 17 games during his last season as the leader of a young team.

He is the Valley Morning Star’s 2020 All-STAR Boys Soccer Offensive Player of the Year.

“Saul Garcia is a natural,” Bearkats coach Robert Howell said. “He is an extremely gifted athlete. … He’s just a great kid overall, and we are so proud of him and his accomplishments.

“He’s just amazing to watch work. He would sometimes take the team upon his shoulders, and he’d lead them.”

But his athletic achievements pale in comparison to the resolve he has displayed during his everyday life amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Garcia, who has held a job as a seasonal server and a runner at a Raymondville taqueria since May 2019 and worked in the fall throughout the football season, has seen a slight reduction in his hours due to the pandemic.

It was the coronavirus that enabled Garcia to resume work because of the suspension and eventual early termination of the soccer season and a shift from in-person school to virtual learning.

And yet, the virus has complicated life for the Garcia family. Saul’s younger brother, Gregory, who turned 5 years old last Thursday, was diagnosed with the rare Menkes disease at 2 months old.

He is homebound, requiring a ventilator to breathe, and is fed through a tube and sometimes experiences seizures similar to epileptics. His family, including his 13-year-old sister, needs to isolate themselves from him in order to reduce the risk of him contracting the coronavirus.

“We’ve been trying to stay safe as much as possible since my little brother’s immune system is pretty weak with his condition,” Garcia said. “I try to not get near him as much as I can since I work and, well, (I don’t know) what I bring home. So I usually shower and put my clothes in a plastic bag to avoid spreading anything in my house.”

The veteran forward has compartmentalized the adversity he has faced off of the field and was responsible for much of the offensive workload on this season’s young and inexperienced Bearkats squad, rotating to play midfield to help teach his peers the position.

“I put him in place and said, ‘Work your magic,’” Howell said. “And he worked his magic. … It’s been a very unique relationship I’ve had with Saul on the field.”

Garcia’s ability to pick a target in the goalbox and score at will astounded his teammates and coaches alike. But he didn’t need much external motivation to get going. In fact, Howell even likened him to “a coach on the run.”

“I had to lead the newer guys and get them to keep up,” Garcia said.

Howell said his top player was “sharp as a tack” and had a wit and unique sense of humor that helped him become a relatable role model for his teammates.

“He’s aggressive, and he’s extremely smart when it comes to field work,” Howell said. “And knowing where to put the ball.”

Garcia remains unsigned but said he hopes to play in college. No matter what path he takes after his academic career at Raymondville officially comes to a close, he has left a lasting impression.

“He’s just a great young man,” Howell said. “I will miss him, and the rest of our Bearkat family will miss him as we move forward after he graduates. … I don’t know that I’ll have another player that has his ability. I hope we do — we all hope we do — but he’s going to be a hard act to follow.”