Playing for the Harlem High School soccer team hasn't always been easy for Ruben Valentin, Brad Webb and DJ Wiltshire.
The road to success has been rocky at times, but they didn't look for detours. They made sacrifices for their sport, and now the seniors are reaping the rewards of perseverance.
"They have worked hard the four years they've been here, and they remember what it was like when our record was around .500," Harlem coach George Berry said. "Last year we went to the state playoffs for the first time since 1996, and our only loss this year is to the third-ranked team in the state. Those three guys are a big factor in that progress."
Harlem has run to a 9-1 record this season, and the team is on track to secure another state playoff berth.
But the seeds were sown even before the first match.
Harlem soccer players D. J. Wiltshire (from left) Brad Webb and Ruben Valentin
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Valentin, Webb and Wiltshire all played club soccer in the off season. That helped hone their skills and prepare them for the prep campaign - and they couldn't wait to see the results.
"There wasn't a time during the preseason when we wouldn't sit down at lunch and draw diagrams to see where we were going to put the players," said Webb, who is a fearless competitor at goalkeeper. "We've been planning for soccer season since early in the school year, and things are working out even better than expected."
Wiltshire's duty for the Dogs is defense. He uses his speed and strong leg to anchor the sweeper position, and he's happy to see Harlem sweeping away opponents on the pitch.
"We're moving up," he said. "I've been playing since my freshman year, and this is what we've been working for, not so much the recognition, but for the chance to succeed."
Valentin displays incredible stamina and scoring ability at the center-midfield position, and when opponents start getting tired, he's just getting started.
"At center-mid you're running the whole game, so you've got to be in shape," he said. "You get tired, but you've got to keep going."
For Valentin and his teammates, the Dogs have come to far to stop now.
"This is my senior year, so I'm giving it my all because I'll never get to play with these guys again. We're playing well so far, and it feels great," Valentin said. "We play as a team, and stand out if you have to in order to help the team succeed."
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