The hardest worker on the field. A versatile player.
Hermiston soccer coach Rich Harshberger was quick to point out Emilio Leal’s best qualities after the talented midfielder signed his letter of intent last week to play for Walla Walla Community College.
“It’s a double bonus of talent and hard work,” Harshberger said. “He’s willing to put in the hard work in the offseason, which helps.”
Leal, 18, follows in the footsteps of former Hermiston players, like Freddy Rodriguez and Antonio Campos, in suiting up for the Warriors.
“Freddy said I should go there,” Leal said. “He said it’s a really good program and I can work on my soccer IQ.”
Harshberger said at last count he will have two players at WWCC and five at Blue Mountain when the college soccer season rolls around this fall.
“That is part of our family plans, to go watch as many of our players play,” he said. “When Walla Walla and Blue Mountain play, we can see six or so all at once.”
Leal, a Mid-Columbia Conference first-team selection, led the Bulldogs with six goals and seven assists this season.
When Hermiston joined the MCC, the soccer players had to wait 18 months between seasons, but in the end, Leal said it played in his favor.
“August 1, it’s back to the grind,” he said. “There isn’t much of a break.”
Another bonus of joining the MCC, according to Leal, is the level of competition, which will translate to the college game.
“It’s a lot more aggressive and there is more speed,” Leal said. “There was not a slow game. It was fast-paced every game. The goalkeepers are at a higher level in Washington. We didn’t know what we were getting into. I just had to play my game and do the best I can.”
With his small size, Leal said he would get pushed around and was an easy target at times, but he learned to use his strengths.
“This year, people noticed I was fast,” he said. “I didn’t realize I was that explosive. I wish I was taller to win more headers, I really had to jump for some of those.”
When Walla Walla plays Blue Mountain in NWAC East action, Leal could face Hermiston teammate Juan Carlos Navarrete in the Timberwolves’ goal.
“He was my protector back there,” Leal said. “He’s already throwing a little shade. We will let the score talk.”
Leal, who will be the first in his family to go to college, plans to major in agriculture/business. He plans to put that knowledge to use as a rancher.
He already owns 16 head of cattle. He breeds them, sells them, and eats them.
“I like steak,” he said.