Article and photos by Carlos Rene Castro
Eighteen-year-old Kevin Brown wears the number 37 on the soccer pitch.
On Oct. 19, 2020, Brown’s father, Willie Brown Jr., was found dead, hanging from a basketball rim at a local Sacramento Park. Willie spent eight days on life support before his death.
Thirty-seven. That is how many minutes Willie lasted till his last breath after medical professionals took him off life support.
“Once they unplugged it, he lasted 37 minutes before his heart stopped, basically passing away,” said Brown. “So that’s the reason I wear number 37. And I feel like that’s my lucky number now.”
After his father’s death, Brown emerged as a soccer star at North Salinas High. He and a high school teammate, Isaac Rios, nearly pulled off a championship season this year. And last weekend, Brown and Rios got a chance to show off their skills to professional scouts at a special event at the Salinas Regional Soccer Complex.
Brown grew up in Gabilan Plaza, an apartment complex in East Salinas, where he would play sports with his neighbors till it was pitch dark. Brown remembers coming home from school, knocking on his neighbors’ doors, and gathering a group of willing kids to play outside.
Brown was a shy boy, but when he was 8 years old, his friend’s sister asked if he wanted to play a pick-up soccer game. That was the very first time Brown kicked the ball around. His performance impressed the group so much that his friend’s sister visited him at his grandmother’s house to ask if he wanted to join her brother’s travel team.
The recent North Salinas High graduate was a top athlete in his squad as he led the team in assists and goals scored his senior year. Brown faced hardships in his high school soccer career before having a breakout senior season at North High.
Brown didn’t sign up to play soccer his freshman year. Looking back, he regrets not participating in the sport that brings him joy. In his junior year, Brown tore his ACL, which sidelined him for the rest of the season till the very last game of the year.
“I am grateful for being able to play, you know, but after that, my senior year, we came back, and I was able to play like a full season,” said Brown.
As Brown transitions to hit the books and pursue collegiate soccer at Hartnell College, an opportunity of a lifetime awaits the tall, athletic young man.
In partnership with Alianza de Futbol and the San Jose Earthquakes, the Chevron Soccer Academy hosted soccer tryouts at the Salinas soccer complex last Sunday. Approximately 200 boys and girls under the age of 18 participated in the tryouts. They showed off their skills in front of scouts from professional soccer clubs, including the San Jose Earthquakes, Club America, and Atlas FC.
Brown was one of the many talents on the pitch, hoping to impress scouts.
The Chevron Soccer Academy’s mission is to ensure that all children have equal access to soccer even when socio-economic hardships can prevent them from competing in soccer.
“The event itself is providing a platform for the community to showcase themselves at an elite level, as well as to provide the community more pathways for advancement,” said Heath Pearce, president of Soccer Venture, which owns Alianza de Futbol.
In addition to providing youth with the tools and skills to perform at an elite level, Chevron Soccer Academy stresses the importance of education, teaching science, technology, engineering and math through the science of soccer.
Sunday was the second event held by the academy at the 68-acre soccer facility in Salinas, according to Jonathan De Anda, manager of the Salinas Regional Soccer Complex. The Salinas Regional Sports Authority, a nonprofit that manages the soccer complex, has had a long-term vision of creating opportunities for youth beyond soccer.
“We have a long-term vision of providing a safe space where families can come not only for soccer but by the opportunity and access that go far beyond soccer,” said De Anda. “I think it was a no-brainer when Chevron approached us.”
Scouts from Atlas FC, a Mexican football club from Guadalajara, were in attendance, searching for talent that fits the club’s mission and needs. Scouts like Carlos Martinez were interested in skills beyond footwork.
“For us, the most important thing is the player’s personality. How he performs and the technical gestures are also very important, but above all, the personality is more than important,” said Martinez.
Soon after signing in on Sunday, players were split into teams where they played matches that consisted of two 11-minute halves in front of the scouts. Only 22 out of the 200 participants made it to the last round, where players had one last opportunity to impress the scouts. Players who did impress can be offered a contract or be placed on a “monitor list” where they can develop a relationship with a club.
Alongside Brown at the soccer tryouts was his former North Salinas High School teammate, 17-year-old Isaac Rios. Rios was another crucial piece to North Salinas’s success this past season. That team was one win away from reaching the Division I finals, but lost to archrival Alisal High in the semifinals by a 1-0 score.
Rios has been playing football since he was 4 years old; his favorite player growing up was international football star Cristiano Ronaldo. He credits his father for much of his success. Alberto Rios said he is confident his son has the potential to compete at a high level.
“I see a lot of potential because he loves sports, and I have always tried to support his decisions,” Alberto Rios said.
During a San Jose Earthquakes game, Rios was invited to be a ball boy for the team, a role that requires being on the field and giving the ball back to referees or players as needed. That experience itself painted a picture in Rios’ mind.
“Just sitting down there and hearing the whole crowd … I envisioned myself to be here one day,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rios will be attending Hartnell College this year and playing soccer for the college team. His plans are to have an outstanding two years at Hartnell and transfer to a Division I school on a soccer scholarship.
The North Salinas High School star duo — Rios and Brown — will continue to play soccer together at Hartnell. Brown admits their relationship was rocky at the start because they saw each other as competition. But as they continued to play soccer together, their brotherhood started to flourish.
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