URBANA — The area’s best soccer player is also the area’s best sportsman.
Take a look at the Big 12 all-conference soccer team listed on page B-3 in Thursday’s print edition. Two dozen players are included on the first team.
Urbana High School senior Miguel Fierro is not one of them.
He wasn’t nominated; by request, he wasn’t nominated.
“I feel we have three big seniors who get talked about,” Fierro said. “Behind that, there are a lot of others who are extremely good but don’t get much recognition.
“They’re all younger, but they’re all great players. They deserve it.”
When Tigers coach Randy Blackman went to the all-conference meeting, he followed Fierro’s directive.
“He elected to not have his name put up so others on our team could get a chance to be honored,” Blackman said.
Urbana’s all-conference first-team representatives are seniors Brian Lopez, Jonathan Lukusa and Joey Lund along with juniors Saul Downie and Darian Gingold.
Blackman recalls one of his first meetings with Fierro. It was in his cramped coach’s office.
“He moved in (from Glenbard West) his freshman year, after soccer season was over,” Blackman said. “He came to my office and wanted to know what he needed to do to get on the team. I get that all the time.”
Blackman took the bait.
“I threw a ball to him and said, ‘Juggle’ ” he said. “He took it right there and juggled for a minute or minute and a half.
“When he left, a colleague asked what I could tell from that. I said, ‘The kid can play. He stood right there juggling the ball and never moved. He used both feet in the process.’ ”
Fierro said there wasn’t time to be nervous about the impromptu audition.
“I love juggling,” he said. “That was the perfect time to impress the coach.”
Fierro’s move to Urbana turned into a win-win situation.
The Tigers got a standout soccer player, one who headlines The News-Gazette All-Area team as Player of the Year.
Fierro soon experienced life-altering changes that had nothing to do with soccer.
Before attending Glenbard West for a semester, Fierro and his sister Heyzel were raised in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville, Ga.
“Soccer was big in my community,” he said. “All of the neighborhoods had their own teams. We played street soccer on basketball courts.”
It was Fierro’s start in a sport he has grown to love, but it also developed a toughness and attitude he carried with him upon his arrival in Champaign County.
“Back then, I cursed a lot and wasn’t very positive,” Fierro said. “I was probably a rude kid.”
He had few goals beyond wanting to play high school soccer.
“Before I got here, I wasn’t thinking about college,” Fierro said. “In Georgia, college wasn’t a big thing. I saw cousins and friends go to work after high school.”
Fierro has an engaging personality. Though he knew virtually no one in Urbana, except cousin Victor Hernandez, who was a senior, he said the transition to the new school “wasn’t very difficult. I make friends pretty easy,” Fierro said.
One of his first acquaintances was a junior on the Urbana soccer team, Blackman’s son Adam.
“Adam brought me to church (First Christian Church) and that changed me,” Fierro said. “I’m a much better person.
“It got me out of trouble. He was a great example.”
Adam Blackman was trying to help the newcomer feel welcomed. Blackman gave him a ride home after a club soccer practice, and asked if Fierro wanted to stay over at his house on an upcoming Saturday night and attend church with him the following morning.
“Without thinking too hard about it, he said he’d go,” Adam Blackman said.
At a distant time in his past, Fierro and his family attended church, but he said, “We’d stopped going.”
One point of emphasis for Randy Blackman is conduct and deportment. He can deal with his team coming up short on the scoreboard, but not if it doesn’t meet his standards for behavior.
“Far too often, there is inappropriate language occurring on the field from far too many kids,” Randy Blackman said, “and it’s not just soccer. You catch it in basketball, too.”
There are expectations to play for his teams. Being a fantastic soccer player doesn’t top the list.
“Behaving appropriately,” the coach said. “I don’t tolerate swearing. That’s a lack of discipline. I know it’s tough when you’re competing, but that discipline will make you better.”
During Fierro’s early days with the Urbana soccer program, the coach saw some borderline issues.
“You could see there was some aggression, in his mind he was saying things, but it wasn’t that often there’d be an outburst,” Randy Blackman said, adding, “He would not be the only player I would remind.”
Adam Blackman can pinpoint when the transformation started.
At the church service, he said, “The message that was preached really hit home with him. I could tell it really made him think.”
Soon thereafter, Fierro joined Adam Blackman at a Christ in Youth camp.
“The first night, I specifically remember Miguel’s reaction to the message,” Adam Blackman said. “He said, “I didn’t know God could forgive me for the things I’ve done.’
“From that point on, I truly believe Miguel was a different person. His life had truly been changed, and that was reflected in the way he lived his life. Since then, Miguel has become someone that I am very proud to call one of my best friends and also a brother in Christ.”
From Randy Blackman’s perspective, it was truly a blessing.
“Miguel found a good friend in Adam and a lot of good friends at First Christian,” he said. “Adam invited him to church, but obviously Miguel was looking for something.”
Fierro is now a small-group leader at the church, working with 12 seventh-graders.
“I talk to them and do a little Bible reading,” he said.
He never would have considered that as a possibility when the family moved to Urbana.
“I would have said, ‘You’re crazy,’ ” Fierro said.
Adam Blackman can’t imagine how Fierro’s life would be now had he declined the original invitation to join him for the church service.
“As far as where his life would have gone without his newfound relationship with Jesus, I couldn’t tell you,” Adam Blackman said. “I believe God has big plans for his future now.
“I have full faith that Miguel will excel at the next stage of his life in soccer as well as his relationship with God.”
Fierro has helped get other people to church, too. His entire family now attends regularly.
Fierro has become the person others want to emulate — and not just on the soccer pitch.
Urbana sophomore David Anderson was new to the area a year ago.
“I was the awkward freshman who didn’t know anyone because I had just moved to Urbana that summer,” Anderson said. “I was sitting by myself waiting for practice to start when Miguel came up and asked if he could sit next to me.
“He introduced himself, and ever since then I have looked up to him not only as a soccer player but also as a person. That year he took me under his wing, showed me around the school and introduced me to new people.”
Randy Blackman emphasized that Fierro is also a role model as a soccer player.
“Miguel has a constant pursuit to get better,” the Urbana coach said. “He works so hard to be successful, not just relying on his athletic ability. He was a fabulous player his sophomore year, was terrific his junior year, and in his senior year was unbelievable. Each year, he made significant steps.”
The biggest stride was in attitude.
“When I was younger, what I cared about was myself,” Fierro said, “doing pointless soccer moves to entertain the crowd. Coach isn’t about that. If you do a move, it’d better be a move going forward, giving us a chance to score.”
Randy Blackman has found one trait prevalent in the truly outstanding athletes. It’s now in Fierro’s repertoire.
“You can tell a great player by how good he makes the players around him,” Blackman said. “He plays so hard, not just for himself, but for his teammates. Miguel is definitely a great player. We had a couple of them this year.”
College is a prominent part of Fierro’s future. He said he would prefer a Christian-based school, such as Wheaton College or Olivet Nazarene, because “I’m not really in the party mode.”
If he selects Wheaton College, he would be reunited with a familiar player. The top scorer on this year’s 18-4-3 team was sophomore Adam Blackman, with 12 goals.
“Since I became friends with Adam, I’ve picked up my grades,” Fierro said. “It can affect my family in the future.”
A possible career path for the 17-year-old could be the broadcasting side of journalism.
“I’d love to be at ESPN, just not my face,” Fierro said. “I’d like to be behind the scenes, live recordings, editing them and making highlights.”
He already has a leg up on the competition when it comes to making highlights. Fierro has three years’ worth from his involvement with Urbana soccer.
NAME SCHOOL YR. POS. COACH
Andy Drackley Centennial Sr. Goalkeeper Andrew Peralta
Miguel Fierro Urbana Sr. Midfielder Randy Blackman
Luke Hanselman Monticello So. Forward Lois Cryder
DeMarion Hatfield Danville Sr. Defender Chris Griffin
Jon Jones Blue Ridge Sr. Forward Marty Price
Daniel Kadema Champaign Central Sr. Midfielder Mick Galeski
Emmanuel Komba Champaign Central So. Midfielder Mick Galeski
Tarik Koric Urbana Uni High Sr. Midfielder Phil Anders
Jonathan Lukusa Urbana Sr. Forward Randy Blackman
Joey Lund Urbana Sr. Defender Randy Blackman
Kyle Roedl St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. Goalkeeper Richard Vetter
Daniel Shin St. Thomas More Jr. Forward James Johnson
George Voulgaris Urbana Uni High Sr. Midfielder Phil Anders
Patrick Wong Urbana Uni High Sr. Forward Phil Anders
NAME SCHOOL YR. POS. COACH
Brennan Crose Hoopeston Area/B-H Jr. Midfielder John Klaber
Saul Downie Urbana Jr. Midfielder Randy Blackman
Darian Gingold Urbana Jr. Defender Randy Blackman
Tristan Gurtler Urbana Uni High Jr. Goalkeeper Phil Anders
Mason Jett Hoopeston Area/B-H Jr. Defender John Klaber
Wiley Jones St. Thomas More Sr. Midfielder James Johnson
Josh Koerner St. Thomas More Jr. Defender James Johnson
Brennen Kraft Mahomet-Seymour Sr. Midfielder John Moore
Michael Linsner Judah Christian Jr. Defender Bo Wilson
Zach Moore Mahomet-Seymour Sr. Midfielder John Moore
Travys Nichols Blue Ridge Sr. Midfielder Marty Price
Josh Schumacher Monticello Sr. Midfielder Lois Cryder
Paul Seeley Urbana Uni High Sr. Forward Phil Anders
Cian Wingo Centennial Sr. Defender Andrew Peralta
Boys' Soccer Players of the Year
YEAR NAME SCHOOL
2012 Miguel Fierro Urbana
2011 J.J. Malone Blue Ridge
2010 Adam Blackman Urbana
2009 Jacob Bushue Centennial
2008 Richard Kayede Urbana
2007 Jonathan Hinds Centennial
2006 Corey Kallembach Centennial
2005 Nick Leigh Urbana
2004 Michael Marten Judah Christian
2003 Joe D’Amico Centennial
2002 Tony Cook Monticello
2001 Nic Wedig Centennial
2000 Jason Curtiss Centennial
1999 Wally Musumeci Champaign Central
1998 Kirk Strebin Danville
1997 Tavis Bones Champaign Central
Boys' Soccer Coaches of the Year
2012 Randy Blackman Urbana
2011 Phil Anders Urbana Uni High
ARTHUR-LOVINGTON — Anthony Hettinger, Sr., Forward.
BLUE RIDGE — Mark Plunk, Sr., Defender; Michael Plunk, Jr., Defender.
CENTENNIAL — Malik Abdul-Rahman, Sr., Defender; Nathaniel Hinds, So., Midfielder; Diamond Williams, So., Forward; Jiayu Yao, Sr., Midfielder.
CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL — Tim Hamm, Jr., Defender; Alex Zarco, So., Midfielder.
DANVILLE — Cameron Griffin, So., Goalkeeper; Chase Thurston, Sr., Defender; Gracson Torres, Jr., Midfielder.
FIRST BAPTIST — Jonathan Garver, Jr., Midfielder.
FISHER/GCMS — Darren Eckerty, Sr., Goalkeeper; Hunter Lowry, Jr. Forward; David Ricks, Jr., Midfielder; Andrew Young, Jr., Defender.
GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM — Chance Potter, Sr., Forward.
HOOPESTON AREA — Trey Anderson, Jr., Goalkeeper; Chase Bouse, So.; Elijah Yates, Jr., Forward.
IROQUOIS WEST — Korbyn Gray, Jr., Defender; Eduardo Reyes, Sr., Midfielder; Hector Reyes, Sr., Goalkeeper; Adan Varela, Fr., Forward; Christian Zavala, Sr., Forward.
JUDAH CHRISTIAN — Josh Beck, Sr., Midfielder; Alec Henderson, Sr., Forward.
MAHOMET-SEYMOUR — Tyler Moxley, Sr., Midfielder; Andrew Shroyer, Sr., Midfielder.
MONTICELLO — Matt Menacher, Sr., Midfielder.
OAKWOOD — Wesley Day, Sr., Midfielder; Synan Nicholson, Sr., Midfielder.
SALT FORK/WESTVILLE — Alex Burke, Sr., Striker; Noah Darr, So., Midfielder; Brody Keeran, Sr., Defender; Jordan Romo, Jr., Striker.
SCHLARMAN ACADEMY — Austin Calhoun, Sr., Midfielder; Chris Kuchefski, Jr., Goalkeeper; Kurt Son, Sr., Midfielder.
ST. JOSEPH-OGDEN — Austin Baker, Jr., Forward; Jeremy Baldner, Sr., Defender; Cameron Harpst, Jr., Forward; Aric Pelafas, Sr., Midfielder; Colin Seward, Sr., Forward; Andrew Quednau, Sr., Defender.
ST. THOMAS MORE — Bryton Bui, Sr., Midfielder; Kyler Jones, Jr., Forward; Colin Kelley, Jr., Defender; Kyle Kostell, Sr., Midfielder; Danny Vetter, Sr., Goalkeeper.
UNITY — Craig Kocher, Jr., Defender; Noah Winn, Sr., Goalkeeper.
URBANA — David Anderson, So., Midfielder; Caine Huart, Jr., Defender; Brian Lopez, Jr., Forward; Joel Shea, Sr., Midfielder.
URBANA UNI HIGH — Randall Hornbaker, Jr., Midfielder; Peter Ivanov, Jr., Midfielder.
WATSEKA — Pedro Garcia, Sr., Midfielder; Keanon LaVoie, Sr., Defender; Caleb Parker, Jr., Defender; Ankit Patel, Sr., Midfielder; Hugo Solorzano, Jr., Midfielder.
Final area standings
SCHOOL CONF. OVERALL
Urbana 8-0 21-3
Normal Community 7-1 15-6-2
Bloomington 5-2-1 13-5-3
Centennial 2-2-4 7-6-6
Danville 3-3-2 7-9-6
Normal West 3-4-1 4-16-1
Champaign Central 2-4-2 10-8-2
Decatur Eisenhower 1-7 5-12-2
Decatur MacArthur 0-8 0-17
Normal U-High 13-7-3
Bloomington CC 6-12-2
East Central Illinois
Urbana Uni High 22-3-1
Judah Christian 10-8-2
Bloomington Cornerstone 6-8-2
Decatur Christian 8-11-1
Decatur Lutheran 4-7
Normal Calvary 2-12-2
SCHOOL CONF. OVERALL
Warrensburg-Latham 4-0 14-7-1
Monticello 3-1 11-9-1
Decatur St. Teresa 1-3 8-11-2
Unity 1-3 6-12
Meridian 1-3 5-13-1
SCHOOL CONF. OVERALL
St. Thomas More 4-0 19-4
St. Joseph-Ogden 3-1 19-4-1
Clifton Central 1-3 6-8-1
Iroquois West 1-3 7-13-1
Watseka 1-3 5-16-1
SCHOOL CONF. OVERALL
Hoopeston Area/B-H 8-0 13-8-1
Salt Fork/Westville 6-2 11-6-1
Oakwood 4-4 4-12-4
Georgetown-Ridge Farm 1-7 3-19
Schlarman 1-7 1-16-1
Blue Ridge 22-3-1
Arthur Lovington 5-7-3
First Baptist 3-6-2
Final N-G rankings
TEAM (previous) RECORD
1. Urbana (1) 21-3
2. Urbana Uni High (2) 22-3-1
3. St. Joseph-Ogden (3) 19-4-1
4. Blue Ridge (4) 22-3-1
5. Champaign Central (5) 10-8-2
6. Centennial (6) 7-6-6
7. Danville (7) 7-9-6
8. St. Thomas More (8) 19-4
9. Hoopeston Area/B-H (9) 13-8-1
10. Judah Christian (10) 10-8-2