Guillermo Alvarez was mindful of the small print on the captain’s band.
It was about more than the coin flip.
Scoring goals had earned the Escalon High sophomore a reputation and a few individual awards, but captaining a team with 10 upperclassmen and bona fide title hopes, well …
That would solidify a legacy.
“When I was named captain, I knew I had to act like someone my teammates would look up to and follow. That was the most challenging part,” said Alvarez, a multisport athlete. He kicked field goals for the varsity football team in the fall.
“Before, I would mess around and act crazy with some of my teammates, but when coach made me captain, it was a dramatic change. That made me a more serious person.”
And The Bee’s All-District Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
Alvarez separated himself in the race for The Bee’s annual award not with his unique ability to create scoring chances, but for his poise and leadership in a nearly historic season.
“More than anything, he assumed more of a leadership role with the team,” Escalon coach Paul Silva said. “Being a varsity player as a freshman, it was more about fitting in with the guys and following what the upperclassmen were dictating. As the previous season ended and we headed into our summer practices, he took ownership of the team.
“It became his team.”
Escalon captured the Trans-Valley League championship, earning the No. 2 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V tournament. The Cougars rolled into the final riding the momentum of a season-long 22-game unbeaten streak.
The regular season reached its apex at Riverbank High on Jan. 30. Playing beneath the lights against a section finalist, Alvarez delighted fans with the brace. In two wins against the Bruins, Alvarez notched five goals and two assists.
“It was a great season. In the beginning, it was hard getting the right alignments on the field,” said Alvarez, a fleet-footed left winger who likes to cut back onto his right foot.
“After the first game, I knew we had a lot of talent; I knew it was going to be a great season. All we needed to do was get used to each other and the individual talent we had. That’s why we were so successful – everyone has talent.”
That talent wasn’t enough against top-seeded West Campus of Sacramento in the section final. Escalon suffered its first and only loss, 3-0.
In those tender moments after the game, with anger and frustration threatening to take over the huddle, Alvarez did his best work as captain.
“It was sad. I told the guys that, in my head and heart, we were No. 1 because we had worked so hard to earn that position,” he said. “I told them, ‘Let’s get ready for next year. Let’s work twice as hard in the summer and we’ll be back taking first place.’”
Escalon will graduate 10 players, including playmakers Andrew Benitez and Chris Gallo (11 goals, 13 assists). Benitez built his own MVP campaign with 23 goals and 11 assists.
However, the foundation has been poured, beginning with Alvarez, who ranked among the Stanislaus District’s best in goals and assists.
The Trans-Valley League MVP found the back of the net 30 times, the third-best total in the section. He also dished out 20 assists, joining exclusive company around the section. Only four players had 20 assists or more.
“He put so much pressure on the defense,” Silva said. “At our team awards night (after his freshman season), I talked about each player. The challenge for him was to incorporate the team more. He had 20 assists this year, so he took it to heart and made sure he involved his teammates. It was a sign a maturity, I think.”
His next step is to take the Cougars all the way. Escalon hasn’t won a section title since 1996.
“It would mean a lot to us. It would make this town of Escalon not all about football,” Alvarez said. “They get excited about Friday football games. I would love to hear them say, ‘Oh, they won sections.’ (The boys soccer team) hasn’t been a part of the conversation in a long time. It would be amazing to win sections.”