The field is partially muddy from a night of rain and the two white goals have no nets but Edwin Yepiz is flawlessly executing individual skill drills in mid-March like it’s his last soccer workout.
The site is Sueno Park – located just north of the I-10 at 44th Avenue and Encanto. It won’t be mistaken for one of the most pristine parks in the Valley but that’s never mattered to Yepiz, a skilled junior forward at Carl Hayden High School who tallied 20 goals and seven assists in helping lead the Falcons to a 5A State Championship win over Tucson Sunnyside in late February.
Yepiz is soft-spoken, yet polarizing once he hits the field.
However, his skill wasn’t evident as a youth. Growing up, he used self-motivation to help propel his success in the sport after he started playing at age seven.
“Back then I wasn’t the best player on the team,” Yepiz said to Sports360AZ.com. “I was really chubby and people told me I wasn’t any good. That’s what motivated me.”
Life away from the sport hasn’t always been the best, either. Yepiz and his three siblings are being raised by their mother Rosey, a baker who is doing her best to provide and make ends meet for the tight-knit family.
“I’ve been used to it since my dad left…when I was six years old,” he explained. “There have been ups and downs because my mom would get a job, lose it, get a job, lose it. My mom has been helping me since day one.”
At times Rosey simply couldn’t financially support her son’s club soccer needs, like when Edwin’s standout performance at an open tryout earned him a coveted spot on Phoenix’s Excel Soccer Academy roster.
What followed was a difficult, yet forthright conversation between he and Stryker Aguilar, Excel’s Director of Coaching.
“Edwin called me and he said, ‘Hey coach, I really appreciate you offering me a spot on the team. I want it but unfortunately I’m not going to be able to accept the spot on the roster,'” Aguilar said. “He said, ‘My mom’s not going to be able to afford the fees for the team.’ If you’ve got the integrity to be able to say that…and you’re good enough to have this spot but you have to decline because of financial reasons, this is the type of person who we want to be able to help.”
Through some of Excel’s sponsors, Aguilar was able to cover Yepiz’s club expenses and now the two are hoping, between leading Carl Hayden to their first state soccer championship and competing against other elite competition at the club level, it will eventually pay off in a Division I scholarship to a school not far from Sueno Park.
“My plans right now is to play…for GCU [Grand Canyon University],” he said. “That’s my number one school right now because it’s in-state and I heard they’re really good.”
Through the highs, lows and often unexpected turns, he’s never lost focus on life’s big picture and holds a 3.4 GPA with the goal of one day studying business.
“If you set your mind to what you want to do, you can do it,” Yepiz explained. “Keep working and you’ll do it. Trust me.”
Who are we to question a young student-athlete who’s come so far and is only scratching the surface of great things ahead both in soccer and, more importantly, in life.