Great, great article last week in Sports Illustrated about the football recruiting wars that take place between Louisiana State University and Alabama, referred to as “battleground states.”
I believe it was reported that last week’s LSU-Alabama super-sized, blowout, Game-of-the-Century showdown is a mere prelude to the other 364 days of the year. That’s when each team tries to bash each other in ripping off top recruits from rival states.
While SI dipped into the ways LSU coach Ed Orgeron tries to withstand ’Bama coach Nick Saban from recruiting out of his own state — and vice-versa — it’s hard not to spot similar trends taking place around these parts.
Last week’s men’s soccer duel between San Bernardino Valley and College of the Desert might’ve been a nice comparison, albeit in a far lesser spotlight than the LSU-Alabama football jousting.
Happens all the time, folks. The minute a JUCO coach gets hired — basketball, soccer, baseball, men’s or women’s sports, you name it — their goal is to keep top athletes from driving past their campuses into the next district.
When a key athlete crosses the line, you can just feel a coach’s gritting teeth, cold sweats, maybe a little increase in those blood pressure numbers.
Getting one from across that line can inspire lots of easy-sleeping nights.
Hugo Herrera, a top-flight player from Indio Shadow Hills High — which is an elite prep soccer program — plays at SBVC for Wolverines’ coach Josh Brown. So did Fred Zaragoza, who spent 2016 and 2017 at Valley.
Both players could’ve played in their own backyard at Palm Desert-based College of the Desert. Not sure why they didn’t; we haven’t asked.
In fact, the two were key SBVC teammates on a 2016 Wolverines’ program that needed to fight their way through the cracks to become competitive. That’s how you do it, right?
Recruit the top prep players.
College of the Desert’s top-flight coach, Enrique Cardenas, lands most of his area’s top players. This season alone, he nailed down a boatload of elite players from last winter’s CIF champs, Desert Mirage.
Alejandro Pimentel, for instance, was CIF Div. 4 Player of the Year. Jesus Negrete and Jesus Gutierrez were All-CIF first-teamers. Palm Desert’s Leonard Garcia-Guerra was another D-4 first-teamer.
That’s just part of College of the Desert’s 2018 nucleus. Pimentel, by the way, tops College of the Desert this season with 16 goals.
Two seasons before Pimental won Player of the Year honors, he was a All-CIF first-team sophomore striker alongside Zaragoza, who was the 2016 CIF Player of the Year. Rams’ teammates.
Zaragoza, over his 2-year span at SBVC, was a valuable property — 17 goals, 6 assists. Herrera was at 16 goals, 4 assists with a couple matches remaining on this season’s JUCO watch. Both are playmakers.
Herrera, who didn’t suit up at SBVC last season, scored 24 goals and assisted on 11 others for his Shadow Hills over 20 matches in 2015-2016.
Four-time CIF champion Desert Mirage edged Shadow Hills, 4-2, for the 2016 Div. 6 championship. Herrera scored for the Knights and Zaragoza scored for the Rams.
A year later, they were teammates at SBVC.
Landing Zaragoza and Herrera at Valley was a master stroke for Brown, much like Orgeron landing a couple Alabama prospects at LSU.
Imagine the roles both could’ve played at an already-strong College of the Desert.
Sometimes, it’s just best if you can keep your own players. If you can land one from another district, you’re even better.