ROCKINGHAM — After tying a school record in wins this season, it isn’t surprising that several members of the Richmond Senior boys soccer team will be playing at the next level.
Midfielder Johnny Juarez and defender Christian Padron became the third and fourth players to sign a letter of intent. Both Juarez and Padron inked with St. Andrews University in Laurinburg Tuesday afternoon. Joseph Griffith signed with Erskine College earlier this spring. Last week, Armando Garcia signed with Cape Fear Community College.
Richmond coach Bennie Howard said Juarez and Padron both played key roles in helping the team post 16 wins this season and earn a share of the Southeastern Conference regular-season title with Pinecrest. The Raiders defeated the Patriots for the first time since 1997.
“That’s a contribution on their part from the record we had. If you are .500 or below, you don’t really send anybody off to college,” Howard said. “But being 16-3 and these guys were a big part of it. All four of them — Joseph, Armando, Christian and Johnny — and hopefully a couple more.
“That’s just a testament to them for working hard in the offseason, believing in themselves and playing together for several years and it all comes together. It’s just a plus for them, a plus for the program because as a coach you want to see players get to the next level to further their education and get good jobs and be good parents. I’m happy for them, I really am.”
Juarez was named to the all-conference and all-region teams for the first time after recording five goals and eight assists. Padron, also a first-time pick to the all-conference and all-region squads, only scored one goal last season but was instrumental in helping Griffith and Cory Smith record seven shutouts and an average of one goal per game.
Juarez said he was leaning toward going to another school when St. Andrews coach Stevan Hernandez began to build a relationship with him. That was all Juarez needed to become a Knight.
“I started talking to their coach and everything,” Juarez said about the switch. “First I had my mind set about going to Methodist. I talked to their coach and I went to their camps. I talked to him and emailed him. Then I started talking to the St. Andrews coach and I went to their camps too. I started liking him…we had a good relationship. He talked a lot with me, he’s funny. I just thought it would be better if I went there. I’d probably get more playing time and some of my friends are going there.”
Juarez was also attracted by St. Andrews’ style of play after watching a few of the team’s games last season.
“They play very calm and they play fast, too,” Juarez said. “I like the way they play and their style. I went to two of their games. I watched them play against a team from Tennessee. They played very well. I liked how they played.”
Howard feels Juarez will be able to make good contributions to a team that advanced to the NAIA National Tournament in Florida last fall.
“Johnny is a good distributor of the ball from the outside,” Howard said. “He can get some crosses in, either in the air or low and hard on the ground. He will fit in nicely at St. Andrews.”
A number of Richmond athletes enjoy being able to play close to home so their family and friends can see their contests. That wasn’t really a factor for Juarez. He just wanted to continue playing soccer.
“If I got a chance to go play somewhere bigger out of state like Washington, I would have taken it because I love playing soccer,” he said. “That’s what I want to do in college. Plus when I play soccer it helps me stay on track with what I’m doing, like my school work. That’s why I really wanted to try find somewhere to play soccer, so I could stay on top of my stuff, not just soccer.”
Unlike his current and future teammate at St. Andrews, Padron said he wanted to stay close to home. His mother lives in Laurinburg and it will be a short drive for her to watch games. Padron said because of the distance, she was unable to attend many of his Richmond contests.
“It gives my mom the opportunity to watch me play soccer more,” Padron said. “I will be living like 5 minutes away from her. She had a hard time getting to the Richmond games. I want her to be able to watch me.
“I never expected to play soccer in college. But they offered me a spot, so I just took it. I’m excited to play, I never thought I was good enough to play. It’s kind of a shocker that I’m exactly going somewhere.
Howard believes Padron could replace another former Richmond player — Brandon Standridge, who just graduated.
“I don’t want to use the term beast, but he was a beast in the back, winning balls in the air and helping getting the attack started from the back through the midfield to the forwards,” Howard said. “He will do a great job at St. Andrews. He might just step in the role where another Richmond player played, Brandon Standridge. Coach Hernandez was high on that, thinking he could do a good job at that outside back position.”
In addition to being teammates once again, Juarez and Padron plan on being roommates. Padron said it will be nice having at least one familiar face with him on campus.
“It makes me feel a little bit more comfortable because I won’t be there by myself,” Padron said. “I will know people if I need to talk to them about things.”
Reach managing editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 and follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.