EL PASO, Texas – Since its founding in 2020, the El Paso Locomotive FC Academy has dedicated resources to ensure that it can provide local players with elite competition and provide them with future opportunities to continue their athletic and academic development.
Since then, 11 players so far have chosen to pursue college soccer and have committed their development to six different soccer programs across the nation.
Felix Casas, Noe Coutino, Oscar Sosa, Arath Uvina and Jimmy Villagomez were members of the Academy’s first ever college-bound graduating class, recently coming back to El Paso on a short visit to the place where they were first given a chance to showcase their capabilities and reflect on their journeys since first walking through the Academy’s doors.
Of the four, midfielder Noe Coutino, 19, is a name Locomotive fans may recognize. He appeared in seven matches and made one assist for the El Paso senior squad in 2022. Now, he can be found playing soccer more than 2,000 miles away from home at the University of Vermont, a top-ten Division I program.
After initially scouting Coutino’s performances on the pitch for the Locomotive senior squad, Vermont’s coaching staff reached out to Coutino to express their interest in bringing him in to strengthen the squad ahead of the 2022 fall season.
“The team was highly competitive, and everyone wanted to get better every day,” Coutino said about what impressed him the most about the program. Ultimately, after a string of conversations, Coutino chose to commit with the Catamounts.
As for any person moving away from home the first time, the adjustment period can be tough. Coutino admits it was indeed challenging moving across the country into a completely new environment, as well as not being able to easily visit friends and family. Yet, his new teammates welcomed him with open arms and he has since found a place in his new home.
Coutino recognizes that the new life he has would not have been possible without the Academy. Having only ever played with local clubs, the Academy noticed his potential and invited him to join. The opportunities to play with and against professional players were of great help to his athletic development and maturity as a person on and off the pitch.
Felix Casa, 19, is preparing for his first season at Tyler Junior College, which ranked fourth in the NJCAA Division 1 rankings at the conclusion of last season. TJC has consistently been one of the nation’s top junior college soccer programs since 1990, with a trophy cabinet that includes six national championships and 22 Region XIV.
“The level at TJC is top-notch and somewhere I could grow as a player,” Casas said. “They’ve welcomed me with open arms, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Casas knew wherever he ended up, he needed to be somewhere where the level of football and competitiveness was not lower than that of the Academy, where he was exposed to professional-quality pitches and training sessions.
“It’s easy to dismiss TJC because it’s a junior college but they’ve won several championships and produced many professional players,” Casas said. “There are players on the roster who had NCAA Division I offers but committed to TJC because of the quality it offers.”
Casas confesses he was unaware of TJC’s existence until the Academy introduced him to the program, along with various others. Had it not been for the Academy, he believes he may not have been on the trajectory he is on now.
“The Academy exposes you to so many opportunities and it helped open a door for me that I don’t think I would have found by myself,” Casas said with a small smile on his face. “The Academy helped me grow and I’m thankful for that.”
Oscar Sosa, 19, also finds himself in Tyler, Texas, gearing up for his rookie season with the University of Texas at Tyler, an NCAA Division II program.
Sosa was first exposed to UT Tyler when the Academy set up a showcase exhibition match to be played in Tyler. There, Sosa credits his decision to commit with the Patriots to the great experience he had with the program’s coaching staff and players following the match.
Now, as he prepares for his first collegiate season, Sosa spoke on life since moving to Tyler.
“I’ve grown as a person,” he said. “Moving to Tyler was a big change, but I knew it would be worth it because it would push me out of my comfort zone to try new things. UT Tyler has been supportive of me while I’ve been here; it’s a blessing honestly.”
He may have only spent a year at the Academy, but that year offered him much more opportunity than he would have anticipated and for that, he can’t help but be thankful.
Arath Uvina, 19, is another Academy product who chose to commit to UT Tyler after the positive experience he had with the Patriots coaching staff following the exhibition match.
“The soccer program and coaches are awesome,” Sosa said when asked what impressed him about UT Tyler to commit there. “The style of play is a bit different than what we experienced at the Academy, but it’s a challenge I need to adapt to. These challenges are important for me to grow as a player and as a person.”
Though navigating college in a new city has been a challenge of its own for Uvina, he believes the Academy helped him prepare for what his new life would be like. While at the Academy, Uvina and his teammates were required to report to training every day before school, helping him learn how to balance his schedule to meet his responsibilities.
Uvina states that the Academy lined up many other exhibitions with different colleges, but he knew UT Tyler was the place where he wanted to continue to develop post-high school graduation.
“I couldn’t have done what the Academy did for me,” Uvina said. “I was really lost; I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to commit. But the opportunities the Academy gave me were some of the best of my life and they were amazing in helping me plan my future.”
Getting ready for his first season at Tyler Junior College, Jimmy Villagomez, 19, is grateful to have ended up at a program as competitive and as accomplished as the one he’s at.
“When I arrived, I noticed the quality and drive in the team,” he said. “The Locomotive [Academy] staff helped me realize how good of an option TJC was for me and now I’m looking forward to making a push for the national championship this year.”
Villagomez was introduced to TJC via the Locomotive Academy. He had an opportunity to play against their squad last April in a friendly exhibition and followed it up with a tour of campus, plus meetings with TJC coaching staff and players. Impressed by everything he was exposed to, Villagomez knew where he wanted to end up at post-high school graduation.
Committing to TJC last August, he made the move statewide and has since joined his friends from the Academy as he and the others settle into their new lives.
For Villagomez, it’s still a bit wild how quickly his life went from not having a clue about his future to now playing for one of the top junior college soccer programs in the country on an athletic scholarship, all thanks to an exhibition set up by the Locomotive Academy.
“Without them, I don’t even know what I’d be doing with my life,” Villagomez says with a light laugh. “The Academy helped me find this opportunity and I hope to make an impact while I’m here.”
These success stories showcase the Academy’s efforts to provide life-changing college opportunities for players looking to continue their personal and athletic development. With the addition of Academy Coach & College Recruiting Coordinator Alex Pozo to the Locomotive staff, the Academy will further invest resources to connect players with college coaches of all levels across the nation to streamline the recruitment process, opening doors to compete in collegiate athletics and obtain higher education.