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Growing Up With The Game-The Jaime Cortes Story

Posted Tuesday, September 01, 2009 by Jess Huffman, Sun Journal, New Bern, NC

Jess Huffman/Sun Journal
Jaime Cortes, a native of Colombia, has led the West Craven boys soccer team to a 4-0 record in 2009.

Growing up with the game

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West Craven soccer player matures on and off the field

Sun Journal

Jaime Cortes’ eyes come to life. He straightens and stands tall when discussing Steven Alexander Torres.

“He’s changed my life,” he says.

Nine months ago Torres was born, and Cortes — just a sophomore at West Craven High School at the time — became a proud father. Life’s innocence was washed away, and soccer became secondary.

“I think he’s helped me mature a lot,” Cortes says. “I think you learn to appreciate things more.”

If you’ve been to a West Craven soccer match this season, then you’ve probably already been dazzled by Cortes’ skills. He’s scored 12 goals in four games, leading the Eagles to their best start in school-history. What you may not know is that Cortes is playing more inspired than ever.

He’s taking the field with loved ones in mind.

“It’s my motivation:  my girlfriend, my son and my dad,” he says. “I think that’s it.”

A fun-loving teenager from Colombia, Cortes moved to the U.S. to live with his father three years ago. He grew up playing what he calls “streetball,” an unorganized version of soccer. No one taught him how to play; he learned through experimentation.

 “It was just me and my friends,” he says.

Upon his arrival in the U.S., Cortes quickly learned his soccer skills were applicable. He started playing for West Craven High School, a program on the rise, and became the school’s all-time leading scorer in just his sophomore season.

The Eagles won their first-ever conference match last year and then made their first-ever appearance in the playoffs. Three years after fielding their first varsity team, they now have nearly enough numbers to field a junior varsity team.

“You start winning, you get more people who say, ‘Hey, I want to be a part of soccer,’ ” West Craven head coach Aaron Steele says. “His contribution to scoring and overall embracing the team aspect has led to more people wanting to be a part of the program.”

Cortes worked on his strength in the summer, and he’s accepted more of a leadership role during the early portion of the season, taking his younger teammates “under his wing,” Steele says. His blazing speed and ball-handling skills are his best on-the-field attributes, ranking slightly above his ability to score.

“He just has tremendous balance,” Steele says. “It’s like the ball is attached to his foot, constantly. There’s rarely anything that can take him off his game.”

 There have been times when Steele has dropped his jaw and appreciated Cortes’ talent from a fan’s perspective. Against West Carteret last year, Cortes was dribbling near the sideline, when two defenders closed in on him from opposite directions. Cortes cut inside, then cut back out, forcing the two defenders to collide.

“He took them both out of the play,” Steele says. “I mean, they collided hard. And I was just sitting there in amazement, like ‘You don’t see that many times in soccer.’ You may see it in movies, but I’d never seen it in real life.”

The Eagles are currently 4-0 on the season and return to action with a home match against Kinston at 6 p.m. Thursday. Cortes is looking forward to playing against conference-rivals Havelock and Washington, saying those are two teams he “really wants to beat.” He shrugs his shoulders, and looks to Steele for approval.

“It’s true,” Cortes says.

And before practice got started Monday, Cortes fired up a personal song-and-dance session beside his car, and his gregarious nature was exposed to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” His friends laughed at his moves, and Steele hollered from 15 to 20 feet away. He acknowledged the distraction, but didn’t tell Cortes to turn off the music.

“He’s always joking around,” Steele says. “He gets along with everybody.”

Yes, in case there were any worries, Cortes is adjusting to life in the U.S. just fine.

“Colombia is my country, and I’m supposed to love my country,” he says. “But I like it here better. The school, the people, everything.”

Jess Huffman can be reached at (252) 635-5669 or at jhuffman@freedomenc.com.

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