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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Echo

Taylor soccer players journey from Bolivia

Zeidan and Villegas share story

While they have had different journeys through school and soccer, senior men’s soccer players Joshua Zeidan and Samuel Villegas have been through quite a bit together.

Villegas and Zeidan met one another back in the eighth grade in La Paz, Bolivia. From then on, they have remained classmates in school and teammates on the field.

“We have played together for a while,” Zeidan said. “It started out at recess, then onto the school team. Eventually, we played for an academy team together.”

Upon graduating from Highlands International School, both men were drawn to Taylor for a few different reasons. Several of their teachers had told them about the school, and Villegas had already taken a class at Taylor during his semester abroad at Eastbrook High School.

“After playing at an ID (recruiting) camp here, I wasn’t a fan of Taylor,” Villegas said. “But I wanted to get out of Bolivia for school, and eventually Taylor just felt like where I was supposed to go.”

Once his classmate decided to attend Taylor, Zeidan made his decision to follow him not long afterward.

Just as it was in their early days, soccer has remained a large part of both men’s experience here at Taylor. During their freshman year, they both began their Trojan soccer journey on the men’s junior varsity (JV)  program. After their first season, their paths diverged for the first time since middle school.

Near the end of a successful freshman year, Josh was called up to join the varsity squad. He immediately noticed a change in environment.

“It was very difficult at first,” said Zeidan. “The coaches and the team didn’t really communicate with me very much. Every practice felt like a trial until I had a conversation with Coach Ross.”

Following his official inclusion on the team, Zeidan experienced some unfortunate injuries.

“My shins hurt so bad that I could barely walk, let alone run,” he said.

He came back for sophomore year, played in four games and persevered through the challenges he faced.

Meanwhile, Villegas had remained on the JV team following the freshman campaign. After watching his friend move up, he began to feel upset and frustrated.

“I felt like I was being left out,” Villegas said. “I met with Coach Ross and told him that I would make his team, no matter what it took.”

After that conversation, he committed himself to getting better every day. He came early to JV practice, stayed late afterwards and began to make progress toward his goal. However, before he got a chance to move up and show his work, COVID-19 sent everyone home.

Devastated, Villegas considered calling it quits.

“I spoke to my dad about quitting,” he said. “He told me that I should talk to Coach Ross before I decided to quit, so I did. He invited me to the next preseason and gave me a chance to prove myself. After four days, he told me that they had a spot for me.”

Upon making the varsity team, Villegas noticed a similar difference in environment to Zeidan.

“I left most practices feeling frustrated, like I wasn’t a part of the team,” he said. “I was mentally, emotionally and spiritually tested to the max. For a while, I felt like I lost my passion for the game.”

Junior year saw these two long-time friends reunited on the varsity team. Though neither one got much playing time, they did not give up and began to find their way.

“Now I just focus on what I can control and what I enjoy about this game,” Villegas said. “I have learned just how strong my passion for this game is, and nothing can take that away from me. I have experienced great character growth and made some good friends through this program.”

This year is the final season at Taylor for both players. What started as playing together at recess in eighth grade has grown into one final season at the collegiate level, and what a great season their team is having.

“I am glad that we have been able to do so well this year,” Zeidan said about this season. “As both a team and individually, this has been a good year. When I scored against IWU, it felt like everything I had been through was worth it. All I could do was thank God!”

Despite hurdle after hurdle keeping them from fulfilling their dream of playing for the varsity team, both Zeidan and Villegas refused to quit. Determination and love for the game of soccer have brought these recess pals a long way.

With just the Crossroads League tournament left on the schedule, Zeidan and Villegas are coming to the end of their joint playing career, but their friendship and the lessons they learned together will surely last a lifetime.