Emilio Leal recently signed his letter of intent to play soccer at Walla Walla Community College in the coming fall. But fancy footwork is not the only trick up the recent Hermiston High School graduate’s sleeve.
In fact, earlier in the day, before the Hermiston Herald came by to interview him, Leal had hopped on his horse Lucero to rope his neighbor’s cow, which had jumped a neighboring fence
“It’s a Texas Longhorn, they’re more wild,” he said.
At 18 years old, Leal himself is the owner of 16 head of Angus cattle on his family’s property in Hermiston. His neighbor, whom he fondly refers to as Grandpa, helped to pave the way.
When he was younger, Leal longed to be a veterinarian. After much thought, cattle ranching won his heart over.
“There’s always something going wrong.” he said, “We have to readjust, rethink, and solve the problem. I like the thrill of it.”
He hopes he will be able to learn a lot about animals by continuing his ranch.
Leal will study business and agriculture this fall in hopes of one day expanding his cattle operation. He will be the first person in his family to attend college. After gaining his associates degree, he plans to go on to a four-year university.
“I never had the help that most kids have, [which] pushed me to get into it myself,” Leal said. “This is all new for me and my parents. As much help as they can give me, they’re right there.”
A soccer scholarship will help cover some of the tuition next year.
Leal has been playing soccer since he was 4 years old. He’s known cows for a long time too.
“It got to the point where I grew up with them,” he said. In his youth, his father would buy two new cows for Leal every year. The deal was, if he fed the cows every morning and night, one day they would be his.
Day in and day out, Leal rose early before school to tend to the cattle. He rushed home afterwards to feed them before sunset. By middle school, caring for the cows became more of a real job.
“The wintertime [was] hard because it usually got dark at 4:30. School got out at 3:25 and I had to hurry home,” he remembers.
By age 16, the cattle were fully in his possession and he could start buying and selling steer.
It was a lot of work, but some of growing up was fun and games. He and his father would ride horses around the neighborhood during the summer
Emilio remembers riding his horse to the corner store to get a soda, tying him up to a post like one might a puppy.
In the summer, the cattle require less attention, which leaves room for some much needed socializing. When he’s feeling persuasive, Emilio has his friends come up to the farm to help out.
“It’s usually lifting bales of hay,” he said.
Emilio says his dad, who passed away last year, played a large part in his success as a soccer player and cattle rancher. He encouraged Emilio never to skip a practice, and to enjoy the wild ride that is raising cattle.
“Homework was always a hard thing. I’d come home and my dad would always have something for us to do,” Emilio said.
But he graduated with a scholarship, and a “program completion” in marketing.
He will miss the tight familiarity of his soccer team, and happily recalls the three-hour road trips they used to take together to get to tournaments, back before Hermiston High School joined the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
He’s ready, however, for his soccer team next year.
“Now it’s at a point where you really have to work for a position,” Emilio said. He’s excited to live with a friend in Walla Walla during college, and to come back on the weekends, when he will continue to care for his cattle.
“I always keep forward. I’m going forward,” Emilio said. “In soccer, my dad has always said the exact same thing: ‘Don’t go back! Go forward.’ No matter what happens, keep chugging.”