EL PASO, Texas — El Paso Locomotive FC Academy was excited to announce its second ever college-bound graduating class at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon at Southwest University Park, with five student-athletes making the jump into collegiate soccer to continue their academic and athletic development.
Locomotive sat down with each player to discuss their next chapter, speaking about the colleges they committed to, the obstacles they have overcome and the role the Academy played in making it all possible.
LEONARDO AGUIRRE, 20, University of Incarnate Word (NCAA DI)
Since joining the Academy in 2019, Aguirre has learned fundamental values in teamwork, respect and responsibility, all which he believes will help guide him in his journey at the University of Incarnate Word.
“I was really grateful to get to be here at the Academy, to train every morning and push myself to prepare for this new challenge,” Aguirre said.
A Las Cruces native, Aguirre’s journey into collegiate soccer was not an easy one. He states he had to constantly avoid the drugs and violence that surrounded his school life while also having to help his mother care for his nephews and juggling a part-time job around his busy soccer schedule.
However, despite all the negativity that surrounded him, his discipline and determination to seek better for himself has now paid off and he’ll be looking forward to arriving in San Antonio to “compete and win a championship.”
University of Incarnate Word is a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, a collegiate athletic conference that participates in Division I of the NCAA.
PELEG ARMENDARIZ, 19, University of Incarnate Word (NCAA DI)
Before joining the Academy last year, Armendariz was not sure that college would be an option for his future. Yet thanks to the work and opportunities given to him by Academy coaches and staff, he is looking forward to continuing his athletic and academic development playing college soccer, something he did not think would be possible.
“I’m grateful for the way [the coaches and staff] pushed me to my limits because they wanted the best for me,” Armendariz said, who is a native of Austin but has spent many years in El Paso as well.
Armendariz will join Leonardo Aguirre at the University of Incarnate Word, a NCAA Division I member of the Ohio Valley Conference.
“It’s a DI school, so I’m excited for the competition,” he said. “That’ll challenge me to pick my game up and work harder. I’m ready to prove that I’m not some random kid from El Paso. I’m ready to help them compete for a championship.”
EMILIO RODRIGUEZ, 18, West Texas A&M University (NCAA DII)
Rodriguez battled with feelings of self-doubt and worth when arriving at the Academy last January, seeing the high-level of intensity and competitiveness at the Academy and not sure if he’d be up for the challenge.
However, with help from the coaches and staff, he settled in and pushed himself to earn his spot on the Academy team and eventually his commitment to West Texas A&M University.
“The Academy is a supportive team that pushes you to be better,” Rodriguez said. “If not for the Academy, I’m not sure I would have been able to push myself the way I do now. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I was given here and I’m grateful for everything the Academy did for me.”
Rodriguez will be joining a NCAA Division II team who have qualified for conference tournaments every year since 2016 (2016-2018 Heartland Conference, 2019-, Lone Star Conference) and have posted a non-losing season every year since 1993. The Buffaloes are 2021 LSC Champions and 2018 HC Champions.
MIGUEL FIERRO, 17, College of Mount Saint Vincent (NCAA DIII)
An El Paso native, Fierro credits the Academy’s schedule and competitiveness for helping him mature and increase his confidence on and off the pitch.
“I’m blessed to have been a part of this team and for the opportunities I was given,” Fierro said. “Whether it was the Academy, the first team or the amazing coaches and staff, they all took time to invest in me and helped me become a better player.”
Committing to College of Mount St. Vincent, Fierro will move to the Bronx in New York City to join the Men’s Soccer team, a member of the Skyline Conference that competes in the NCAA’s Division III. The Dolphins lifted their first conference championship in 2021 and clinched a berth in the 2022 conference tournament.
“I’m very excited,” Fierro said about his cross country move. “One of the things that will help me as a person and as a player is to get out of my comfort zone and what a better way to do it than moving out to New York City.”
ROMMEL TARIN, 18, Taft College (CCCAA)
Born and raised in El Paso, Rommel Tarin leaves grateful for the various experiences he was given at the Academy — including a call-up to the senior team earlier this season — and is ready to take the next big step in his career.
“I’m anxious, excited but I hope it’s a good jump for me and my soccer career,” he said. “I’m thankful for all the opportunities I was given to play and train with the Academy and the first team. It was an incredible time for me here at the Academy.”
Tarin discovered his love for soccer during a tough period in his family’s life. When he was young, his father lost his job and many expenses had to be cut in order to keep the family afloat. During this time, Tarin picked up soccer in elementary school and his parents noticed how the sport became an escape for him during this time of hardship. His parents took him to free soccer programs offered by his schools and got him the best second-hand equipment they could find to support his growing passion for the game.
“I didn’t realize it at the time because I was young, but looking back at it, that really changed my life,” he said. “I’m thankful to my parents for supporting me during that tough time and helping me get here.”
Tarin will join the Taft College Cougars, who compete in the Central Valley Conference of the California Community College Athletic Association. The Cougars finished their 2022 season as CCCAA State Semifinalists and CCCAA Northern California Regional champions.