There’s a nickname that has stuck with Van Horn sophomore midfielder Angel DeAvila for most of his life and with the boys soccer team.
“We call him ‘Gordo,’ ” Van Horn head coach Jesus Rodriguez said of a nickname that means “fat” in Spanish. “He was a little chubby when he was a kid.”
If a soccer fan or a Van Horn athletics supporter were to take a look at DeAvila, and didn’t know the backstory behind his nickname, it’s likely that person might have a perplexed look on their face.
It’s pretty safe to say that DeAvila isn’t “gordo” and is in good shape at 5-foot-4 and 146 pounds. When he’s on the field, he’s one of the fastest players on the field and is graceful when dribbling a soccer ball. In fact, during his freshman season, DeAvila was so light that he struggled with bigger players pushing him off the ball.
So what is so “gordo” about the all-state sophomore sensation? Why does he have this nickname?
“I’ve been called ‘Gordo’ for a long time now,” DeAvila said. “My family has been calling me that nickname for a while. It just stuck with me.”
In any case, DeAvila had a season to remember. He led the Falcons to their first undefeated regular season in school history, was a Class 3 second-team all-state selection and scored 23 goals to go along with 14 assists despite facing much defensive pressure.
Because of his accomplishments, DeAvila is the 2017 Examiner Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
“We made history, I feel like,” DeAvila said. “We were on the same page throughout the whole season. We worked together and communicated and had a wonderful coach to be there by our side. We were a family.”
Rodriguez knew DeAvila had the talent since the sophomore was in middle school. DeAvila was playing for the Sporting Kansas City youth soccer academy team at the time, which features some of the best players in the state and region.
The Falcons coach pushed hard for DeAvila to play for the middle school team so he could prepare for the high school level. Just a couple of weeks into the season, Rodriguez and the rest of the team knew DeAvila was something special.
“During the second day of tryouts, I asked him if he wanted to go out and play,” Rodriguez said. “He said, ‘Yeah, I want to, but I don’t know if I can because I am with Sporting.’ I said, ‘I understand.’ Then during the fall, there is no club soccer and he got to play for us.
“He was training with us in the morning at the middle school and with his club team in the afternoon. He was ready (for the high school level). He was fit.”
And it ended up working out for the 2017 Van Horn team.
“He’s very explosive off the ball,” Rodriguez said of DeAvila, who is already drawing interest of college recruiters. “And that makes him very difficult to defend. He can just pass the ball and he’s already taking off. He can also shoot with both legs. The other team can say, ‘Cover his left, cover his left!’ and he can shoot with his right. Or ‘Cover his right, cover his right! And he can shoot with his left. Not every player at the high school level can do that.”
It’s no surprise that DeAvila is a tremendous soccer player. He’s been playing since he was 3 years old and has had many family members who played soccer in high school and college.
DeAvila often practiced with his brother, Mario Morales, a Van Horn alum, in his house and backyard. The two often competed with each other to see who could do certain things the best.
“Me and my brother competed all the time,” DeAvila said. “We would do a bunch of little mini games throughout our house and outdoors. We would come (to the Van Horn soccer field) on the weekends and I would practice with his team when he was in high school.”
Once teams started noticing how talented DeAvila is, which was in the second half of his freshman season, team’s started man-marking him and throwing double-teams his way. It was a big challenge for someone who had just started at the high school level, but he eventually adjusted to it.
“At the beginning it was kind of frustrating, having two guys marking you,” DeAvila said. “As time goes by, you just have to learn to keep calm and stay composed and to possess the ball through teammates and keep working as a team.”
Part of the reason for being able to adjust to drawing so much attention from opposing defenses is his work in the weight room, according to Rodriguez. That has allowed DeAvila to absorb more contact than he had before. The third-year Van Horn coach also had to get creative to create more opportunities for DeAvila to make plays.
“This was a new year for him because every team knew about him,” Rodriguez said of DeAvila, who also earned all-state honors as a freshman. “We had to adjust and have him change position throughout the game. I gave him a cue and he knew what to do. Everyone knew he was a dangerous player. I’ve never seen that before, a team man marking a sophomore.
“He’s not a big kid, but he’s low to the ground with the ball. A lot of kids can’t keep up with him, and the stronger he gets, the better he will be. He was taking contact and maintained possession. He just kept going because he got stronger.”
Now that DeAvila nearly has that part of the game down, the sky is the limit for DeAvila, who still has two years left with the Falcons.
Rodriguez said he could see DeAvila landing with a Division I soccer program and has already received interest from Creighton University (a Division I school) and Graceland University (an NAIA school).
“Had we gone to the final four, I think he would have been an All-American,” Rodriguez said of DeAvila. “He’s that type of player. I see him having two successful seasons coming up. It’s up to him about how good he’s going to be. When he hits his senior year, I think I am going to get a lot of calls (from colleges).”