My mother gave my father one demand before he stepped out of the delivery room to run to the store, ‘Make sure you are not late to your child’s birth’.
Sure enough, my father ended up being late by a couple seconds as he ran to a nearby sporting goods store to grab me a soccer ball that I could hold onto as I was born. This little story is the epitome of how important soccer has been to me in my life, and how there are many moments in life I have overcome to get to the point I am at now.
Soccer has meant everything to me. With my dad being Portuguese, I have been a huge fan of the Portuguese national team ever since I can remember, and have idolized Cristiano Ronaldo since I was a boy. To this day, I still wear the number 7 because of him, and because my last name is seven backwards.
Every day, starting at 4-years-old, my dad made it his mission to practice with me outside at least two hours a day, on top of one hour of practice I went about on my own. I played soccer non-stop and started playing organized club soccer at the under-9 level when I was six.
Up until 12 years old, my team became one of the best in the country, and at one point, my father became so obsessive about my stats he kept track of my goals in a season, which tallied 84 in 36 games.
The following year, at age 13, I was invited to the United States Youth National Team Camp. At this time, I felt on top of the world; I was one of the best players in the whole country and continued to perform at a high level. This would continue for another year. I was then invited to another national team camp, where I did not perform so well. I have not been called back into another camp since.
Soon afterwards, my father found out I had not been called back to the following one and chose to not speak to me, out of disgust for my performance and failure to meet expectations. As a 13-year-old kid, who had been trained from such a young age to be a superstar, I was at a new low as other kids began to catch up to me. I was still training often, but I was not focusing on the things at hand. I gained a little weight at the time and carried that little chunky weight for a couple years.
The following year, I was the youngest player on the San Jose Earthquakes Academy, playing players two to three years older. At the time, I was also going to high school in San Jose which was about two hours away from where I lived. I would wake up every day at 4:30 a.m. and get home at 11:00 p.m., and I did this for four years straight.
My sophomore year, I began to take everything for granted and was given another reality check, as I eventually left the academy after not getting the playing time I had wanted. Fast forward to my junior year, I played for another local team and began to really make a name for myself, being ranked in the top 150 players in the country for my class. I committed to Notre Dame University and was ecstatic for what the future held.
But as evidenced from before, I reverted to a lack of focus on my studies and sport, and my commitment fell through a couple months before I graduated high school. At that time, I fell into a deep period of depression and isolated myself. I needed time to figure out what I wanted out of my life and how I was going to accomplish certain goals I had set out for myself. It was becoming too much of a trend on how I would achieve the highest of the highs and then fall down to the lowest of the lows.
Therefore, I quit soccer for about eight months after graduation. I worked at a retail store and a restaurant and took some time to find out what I wanted in life. Soon after, I spoke with an old friend of mine, who happened to be a head coach at a Division II university about 20 minutes from my home.
He gave me a full scholarship and I chose to attend that school. I got in shape and I started every game as a freshman in the hardest conference in the country for Division II. Soon after, that same coach was offered a new role at a local community college that gave him the tenured position he longed for. Seeing how our relationship developed, he became a sort of father-figure to me, I followed him to his new school and became an NCAA Junior College All-American, with 25 goals and seven assists.
I was offered a full ride to Seton Hall University. I was elated, but ready for the task at hand of continuing my soccer career. Coming in to Seton Hall, the coaches had high expectations for me and I met them right away.
In our two preseason games, I scored four goals and felt ready for the official season. But almost immediately, I fell into a funk where I did not score for six games. Although I started every game, I only ended up with four goals on the season, which was a huge disappointment. The season and the semester were not ideal, because I was very disappointed in myself, and my coaches would constantly reiterate how disappointed they were in me as well.
Throughout the year, the team had major issues with our coaches which led to a very negative environment within the team. Ultimately, the athletic department chose to fire the coaches. Seeing all this occur, I wondered if the same trend I had seen my whole life was happening all over again, after I worked so hard to make sure it did not.
But rather than let that whole season bring me down, I have used it as motivation to push me in this 2018 season. In January, our new coaching staff was announced, and since then, I have been performing at a level I was not been able to maintain for the longest of times.
My coaches are very pleased with me and see me as the star I have envisioned myself as, going back to four-years-old in the local park with my dad.
I share this story not as a means of explaining what I have done, what I have been through, and what I have overcome, but rather I share it as a reminder to myself, and to show you the things I have gone through that have set me up to succeed.
Although I may wish some things panned up differently at particular points in the past, overall, I still would not change a thing, because everything I have gone through has helped define me as a person, student, soccer player, friend, son, and brother.
And with so much life to live, I will continue to live in accordance with the tattoo on my wrist, that serves as a daily reminder to myself to continue to work hard. It says, “Carpe Diem,” seize the day.
Marco Neves is a special contributor to The Setonian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @marconeves_7.