Just over a month ago, the Rawlins High School boys’ soccer team squared off against Powell to open the 2018 Wyoming State Soccer Tournament, downing the Panthers 6-0. The Outlaws went on an improbable run after that, giving eventual champion Worland all they could handle in a 1-0 loss in the semifinals, eventually finishing third in state.
“Had Rawlins made one or two of those off-the-post shots they missed [against Worland], I think they would have won the whole thing,” said NWC men’s soccer coach Stan Rodrigues.
Now the spine of that Outlaws team — Gerardo Lopez, Neftali “Kike” Solis and Luis Chavez Tesillo — are headed to Northwest College. Rodrigues shares a history and an alma mater with Rawlins head coach Erly Cornejo, and traveled to Jackson to scout the team.
“He [Cornejo] played with a group of guys that I’ve known for years,” Rodrigues said. “When I found out he was coaching down there, it intrigued me to see what he had.”
Once in Jackson, Rodrigues liked what he saw, especially with Lopez, Solis and Tesillo.
“Not only was I impressed with their resilience, they have a passion for the game that you just can’t coach,” Rodrigues said. “As I met the kids, their character was coming out. Erly [Cornejo] coaches like I do, very much committed to the family aspect, very much committed to keeping the kids bonded together. I can tell you that I believe if they hang in there, do the things they need to do, they’ll get good, quality minutes.”
Rodrigues had praise for the rest of the Rawlins team as well, especially after their run in the state tournament.
“I wasn’t so worried about whether they could have won or could have lost,” he said. “What impressed me was their resilience after losing. Seeing them bond, knowing they were going to take care of each other, that was it. To be fair, I would’ve taken the whole team.”
A 3A All-State selection for the 2018 season, Lopez brings to the Trappers an outsized personality, according to Rodrigues, with the skills to back it up.
“Gerardo Lopez is a very cheeky striker with a lot of flair,” Rodrigues said. “He’s able to get in between the lines real well, and he’s a finisher. He’s not afraid to take people on and get around people and score; he’s a hustler.”
Lopez also plays with a lot of creativity, and that’s reflected in his stats for the season, finishing with nine goals and three assists.
“He’s one of those guys that kind of lulls you to sleep a little bit with his creativity,” Rodrigues said. “He kind of walks in, walks out, and all of a sudden boom! He’s on the ball and scores a goal. He has a passion for scoring goals.”
Lopez’s maturity and communication level also impressed Rodrigues, as did his focus on what he wants to achieve at NWC.
“You know a lot of these kids are going to change their major seven times before sophomore year,” he said. “He’s [Lopez] is not one of those. He’s a kid I truly believe knows that education is important. He loves soccer so very much, and wanted the opportunity to do both. He’s very united with his friends and his family, and that’s important.”
Solis is the wildcard of the three, in that the defender wasn’t even on Rodrigues’ radar when the second-year coach scouted the team.
“I had no real knowledge of him [Solis] until I saw him play at the state tournament,” he said. “This kid is a monster. He’s like 6’1” or 6’2”, a good 170 pounds, but he wins balls. Whatever he lacks in foot skill, he’s going to get you with his physical skill. We needed more size and some of that die-hard, flat-out ‘I’m going to get you’ mentality. This guy’s gonna get you.”
Not only will Solis get to play with a pair of teammates at NWC, Lopez is also his cousin, making the familial bond that much deeper. A fixture on the pitch since the fourth grade, Solis said the opportunity to play at NWC was too good to miss.
“When I met Coach Rodrigues he seemed like a really nice guy and a cool coach that I can easily adapt to,” Solis said. “I wanted to get a feel for what it would be like to play at the next level, so this was a great fit, [plus] I’d have the opportunity to play alongside my cousin, who I’ve played with since we were toddlers.”
Rodrigues said Solis will most likely fill a defensive role somewhere in the midfield or the back.
“He’s a flat-out ball winner,” Rodrigues said. “He’ll be tough to be reckoned with, let me tell you.”
Luis Chavez Tesillo
Another 3A All-State selection, Tesillo was the “motor of that [Rawlins] team” as a defensive-minded center mid, according to Rodrigues. Another hard-nosed player, Rodrigues said Tesillo wasn’t afraid to mix it up with opponents, but he’s not so tough that he forgets the finesse part of the game.
“He [Tesillo] runs around the middle and just bats balls away,” Rodrigues said. “He just runs and runs and runs. And he’s tough, he’ll get in on a tackle.”
Tesillo began playing soccer in elementary school, though it took him a while to develop a passion for the sport.
“I started playing when I was 10, but I didn’t take it that serious,” he said. “I participated in tournaments for fun. I started taking soccer serious my freshman year, and from there to this day, it’s been a great experience.”
After learning about the NWC program from his high school coach and meeting with Rodrigues, Tesillo did his diligence in exploring what the school offered academically.
“I started to do some research and it turned out that [NWC] had most of the things I looked for in a college,” he explained. “What really made me choose to come here was the soccer program, and the academics they provide. I’m really excited about the soccer program, but mostly about majoring and graduating. I want to start my career, and I believe that NWC will help me achieve my goals.”
Rodrigues said he’s excited to see what the future holds for the three Outlaws, but he’s realistic when it comes to what it takes to earn a spot.
“I’m not saying these kids are going to jump in right away and be too hot to trot,” he said. “They’re going to have to fight their way through my guys that are coming back. But at the same time, every day is a tryout and every day is competitive at the NWC campus.”
With the number of recruits Rodrigues has coming in coupled with returning players, it’s going to take something extra for a player to stand out. Rodrigues believes his Rawlins trio has that.
“These guys have a flair for soccer that I think I need in some areas,” he said. “They also have that hard-nosed dedication: They’re dedicated, and they’re loyal, and that’s something that’s very difficult to find.”