For an 18-year-old, Tony Garcia has a lot on his plate. Last year, when he was a student at Arvin High School, one of the football coaches noticed he could kick a soccer ball with distance and accuracy. As a defender for the school's soccer team, he could clear the ball and kick it further downfield than the team's goaltender could.

So they brought him onto the football field.

"They put a football down and I just kicked it," said Garcia. "I guess I kicked it good because from there they just kept training me."

The young lad graduated in June and enrolled at Bakersfield College. Arvin High School assistant coach Ramon Carrillo put in a call to his counterparts at BC, telling them to give Garcia serious consideration as a potential member of the Renegade squad.

"We researched a little about him, saw his high school film and saw that he definitely had potential to play at this level," said BC kicking coach Matt Alvarez. "We saw that he has a really strong leg."

What's his secret for being able to kick a football? It's related to being able to play that other sport with a similar name, fútbol. "If it wasn't for soccer, I wouldn't have the same conditioning, I really wouldn't have the leg I have right now," said the soft-spoken Garcia.

Garcia made the Renegades and specializes in kickoffs. He often boots the ball deep into the opposing team's end zone, pinning them back in their own territory.

But there's more about Garcia than just his athletic ability that has made an impression on his coaches. "What's impressed me most about him is his incredible work ethic," said Alvarez.

Before Garcia ever shows up for class, he first drives from his home in Lamont to work in the fields alongside his dad at Sunview Vineyards. It's demanding work, but now that the triple digit days are gone Garcia says working in the fields "is not that bad."

After a few hours he then heads off to class at BC where he carries 17 units as a full-time student. Then, in the afternoons, it's time for football practice.

"I'm sorry to say, but in this generation you just don't see young men with the work ethic that he has," said the coach.

Garcia's parents came to the United States from Mexico 22 years ago and made Lamont their home. The second oldest of five children, he is the only male. His older sister also started attending college this year, so finances are tight.

For Garcia, not working is not an option. "I want to help out in the house, too. I don't want to just be there and not contribute anything," he said.

The coaches at BC call him "Arvin" because that's where he went to school, though Garcia says he's lived in Lamont his whole life and is proud of it. That's another thing Alvarez says he doesn't see too much of.

"We generally don't get a lot of student athletes from the rural areas, I can't explain why," he said. "There's a lot of talent out there."

Yes, there is. Maybe it's a financial issue, lack of transportation or something else. Somehow there has to be a way to get those young people to use their talents to pursue higher education.

"I hope people will say, 'Hey, if he can do it, I can do it. He's doing the same thing that I am and he's making a name for himself,'" said Alvarez.

Garcia is enjoying his new surroundings at BC and the family-like atmosphere created by his Renegade teammates and coaches. He laughs off the fact he was assigned number 98, since such high numbers usually are assigned to defensive linemen. He's shooting to make starting punter or field goal kicker next year. His prospects of playing for a major university appear to be in his favor. "He has the talent to play at a Division I college," notes Alvarez.

While Garcia is glad to be making a contribution to the Renegades, he's cognizant that there's more to life than just playing football. His goal is to prepare himself for whatever the future may bring.

"I just want to see my family happy," said Garcia.

Contributing columnist Jose Gaspar is a news anchor/reporter for Telemundo Bakersfield and KGET. Email him at elcompa29@gmail.com. His work generally appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.

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