Pandemic Shuts Down Recruitment--Or Does It?
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
By David Carter--Sports Editor
We live in a time where COVID-19 has seemingly taken a toll on nearly every aspect of our lives. High school sports are no exception.
For us in the VHSL we are fortunate enough to get a chance at playing all of our sports seasons as of now, but the impacts and worries of COVID do not stop there. Some of the bigger issues lie much further beyond the opportunity to play this year. COVID brought an end to nearly all college visits, team meetings, off-season clinics, and coach meetings, dropping a brick wall in front of student-athletes wishing to compete at the next level.
As if the college recruitment process wasn’t considered stressful enough, these athletes are now trying to make their next move virtually. There have been online campus tours, phone calls, and thousands of Zoom meetings. Among these meetings sit many potential candidates, trying to filter and work their way through oftentimes entire lists of schools in order to make their decision as to where to spend the next four years: a seemingly incredibly difficult decision to make through a computer screen.
Among thousands of student-athletes across the country, Franklin County soccer standout Oscar Rodriguez-Garcia is just one trying to make his mark and continue his career. An Eagle soccer centerback of three years and Valley Blue Ridge Star Elite centerback for four, Garcia has devoted his whole life to the game.
“I’ve been playing soccer for as long as I can remember. If I could walk, I was playing soccer,” Garcia says.
As long as he has been playing, he has had an incredible passion for the game.
“I’ve always loved it. I played on my worst days, I played on my best days, and it was always there. I never wanted to stop. It just always makes me happy to be on the field,” Garcia says.
While building a bond with the game, Garcia was also constantly building talent. He brings an unpredictable, yet incredibly versatile presence to the field, and you never know what to expect.
Playing almost his entire career as a defender, Garcia has never let that stop him from getting into the attack. Netting several goals per season for both Franklin County and VBR Star, Garcia went into the 2019-20 season blazing, scoring an unpredicted 3 goals in 3 games from centerback, including scoring with a textbook-style free kick from 20 yards.
“That was probably one of the best moments I’ve had in a game. It’s one of those moments you always talk about and dream of while you’re practicing, but you never understand until it actually happens. It’s pretty surreal,” the senior said.
This also happened to be about the time that the national pandemic of COVID-19 was settling into the U.S., bringing an abrupt end to Garcia’s junior season.
“It honestly was very upsetting, you know. Waiting all year for soccer season, getting a really good, fast start to my season, and then have it all stopped in the matter of a day,” he remarked.
Garcia recalled that his biggest worry would be the lack of a chance to showcase his talent to college coaches being that his season was cut short.
“I honestly was most worried that no coaches would see me. Junior year is a big deal for recruiting and I never really got my chance to show everyone what I really had in me. I knew I wanted to play in college, so I was worried about what the future held,” he said.
Considering how his team mates view him, Garcia is a shoe-in for college soccer.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever been around. He’s calm, collected, and incredibly skilled on the ball. The best part is that he has a head on his shoulders. He’s built of talent, yet humble as can be. He never lets it get to him,” said Garcia’s teammate of four years, George Stone.
Moreover, it Garcia’s past success brought gave him a name prior to the pandemic. He had amassed a following unbeknownst to him.
“I didn’t realize any coaches had been watching me when I was younger. My best guess is they found me through travel and maybe my beginning of playing for the school,” he said.
Either way, it was just after the cancellation of the season when the calls started pouring in.
“I really didn’t know what was happening,"he said. "I started getting calls and emails from people I didn’t know, and it turned out to be coaches. I was getting contacts out of nowhere, and I couldn’t have been happier.”
Garcia has been working through these contacts for the entirety of the pandemic, including anything from video calls to phone calls to emails to text messaging. As we inch further through Garcia’s senior year, he has begun to narrow his list down to fewer schools, including Christopher Newport, Concord, Bridgewater, and Roanoke College.
“It’s really been crazy, and I’m starting to figure out who I like," he said. "I worked a really long time for it, so it’s nice to see it pay off. Now I’m just ready for senior season.”