One of head coach Jason Weides’ greatest recruiting successes this past offseason resulted in the return of first team all-GPAC forward Marcelo Hernandez. Last October Hernandez had celebrated senior day along with five other teammates that were set to graduate in May. A transfer from Evergreen Valley College (Calif.), Hernandez battled through a knee injury and put forth a fine effort in what appeared to be his final collegiate season.
Not so fast. Says Hernandez, “Coach Weides and my teammates didn’t push me at all. Coach Weides just put the idea (of returning) in me. That was enough for me to think about it. I could play one more year and get my master’s. I have all my life to work. Why not have another year-and-a-half of studying and one more year playing? Helping the program grow is my motivation.”
Hernandez is making up for lost time. The native of Quito, Ecuador, did not get cleared by the NAIA after arriving at Concordia prior to the 2015 season. Hernandez watched as the Bulldogs upset Hastings for the GPAC tournament title. Hernandez wanted to be an active participant in such postseason glory.
In his first season of action in Bulldog blue, Hernandez fell just short of leading Concordia to another conference tournament championship. Despite playing through pain, Hernandez managed to tally eight goals and four assists. Considering Hernandez amassed 16 goals and 14 assists in his final season at Evergreen Valley, he may have a lot bigger things in store in 2017.
“He’s going to get his master’s degree and he gets one more chance to play while doing that,” Weides said. “It’s a great opportunity for him to get that extra education and use up his eligibility. For us to have him for another season is great news.”
It’s no surprise that Hernandez would want to use up every little bit of eligibility he has left. He began playing soccer in his native country at the age of four or five. He starred for Liga de Quito. Says Hernandez, “Soccer was my passion every day. I was training until I was almost 20 when I decided to come to the United States to keep playing and to get an education.”
Hernandez journeyed to Evergreen Valley in San Jose, where he spent a year-and-a-half and played for two seasons. Hernandez knew he would have to find a new landing spot to finish his degree. His connection to Concordia came through former assistant coach Nico Luque, who had played soccer with a good friend of Hernandez. Luque and Hernandez hit it off. It helped that Luque could speak to Hernandez in Spanish.
The holdup in Hernandez’s eligibility at Concordia escaped the control of either Concordia or Hernandez. At one point, there was uncertainty about whether Hernandez would ever appear inside Bulldog Stadium. Once Hernandez trained with the team it became quite obvious that he could make a considerable impact the moment he was deemed eligible.
“It was tough that year, but I was training and playing with my teammates,” Hernandez said. “It was not so bad. They made me feel like part of the team. That helped me a lot. Then we won the GPAC. I tried to be involved with team.”
Hernandez has also been supported from afar by his father Luis Hernandez and Ximena Carrion. Marcelo says that his dad has high expectations for Marcelo. His father watches webcasts back home. He had to be proud of moments like the one that occurred last Sept. 24 when Marcelo recorded both Concordia goals, including the overtime game winner, in a 2-1 victory over Northwestern.
Should Hernandez remain healthy, like he is this preseason, more thrilling moments can be expected. In terms of pure technical ability, Hernandez ranks at the top of the Bulldog roster. With good fortune, Hernandez will enjoy the entire fall displaying those skills.
“Last year he came in and he definitely was impactful, but he was healthy maybe the first couple weeks and then was battling things all throughout the season,” Weides said. “He was probably somewhere between 70 and 90 percent healthy the rest of the season. He voiced those frustrations. He wasn’t enjoying the game as much simply because his body was keeping him from that. He’s capable of a lot, but we haven’t seen him in full health for a full season. I’m expecting him to be a dynamic player who can help us create a lot of goal scoring situations. He’s certainly a threat to other teams.”
With a sport management degree in hand, the 26-year-old Hernandez is one of the veterans of the campus. After spending the summer training with a friend in Ecuador, Hernandez is ready to be back at a place he has grown fond of.
“I like everything,” Hernandez said. “I came from a bigger city in California. The first thing I noticed is how nice the people are here. When I came here, I became part of this university right away. They made me part of this family – and that includes my teammates, my coaches and the people who work here at Concordia. It makes you work harder because you want to play for that name in front of you. You want everyone to look at Concordia as the best university.”
Hernandez has helped foster a winning attitude within a soccer program that now expects to compete with the top teams in the conference. With Hernandez healthy and reinvigorated, who knows what the 2017 Bulldogs are capable of. Give thanks for one more year of Marcelo Hernandez in Bulldog blue.