How do we not have a local community college soccer program for our high school players?
I’ve asked myself this question almost every day for three years.
Between Davis, Dixon, Woodland, Winters, Esparto and Vacaville, the talent pool in our area can stand up to nearly every corner of the country. Yet unlike Sacramento, San Francisco, Napa and San Jose our players do not have access to a local community college program unless they want to travel across the causeway hundreds of times every year.
That is not an appealing offer for an 18 year old who has to work full time, might not have a car and has to look after members of their family.
As a player who tried it for one year told me, “It sucks, bad.”
In the 2019 - 2020 season, there were 37 community college men's soccer programs in Northern California.
For players living west of the causeway, the two closest programs are American River College, also known as ARC, and Napa Valley College.
ARC is 25 miles from Davis, 26 miles from Woodland, 32 miles from Dixon, 40 miles from Winters, 42 miles from Esparto and 44 miles from Vacaville.
Napa Valley College is 24 miles from Vacaville, 36 miles from Dixon, 38 miles from Winters, 44 miles from Davis, 52 miles from Esparto, and 53 miles from Woodland.
I wanted to know what this drive would feel like for student-athletes, so for three different weeks in 2019 I drove from Davis to American River College Monday through Friday and evaluated the impact on my life.
Halfway through my first week, I was ready to quit.
Of the fifteen car rides taken during February, April, and October, the average round trip drive was over 1 hour and 43 minutes. This drive would be significantly longer for players living outside of Davis, with an average round trip being well over two hours.
One traffic packed Friday the trip took over 2 hours and 53 minutes.
Along the way I encountered countless accidents, deadlock traffic, road construction, high speed winds that blew over a semi-truck, an elderly lady driving the wrong way down an interstate entrance ramp, a police chase, a cap-sized truck that was hauling chickens and a gas station bill that would make any cross-country truck driver proud.
Also, two flat tires (thanks AAA!).
After experiencing how unsustainable it would be for the majority of our local players to make this journey for two full years, an unsettling question came to mind: What’s happened to all of our past local standouts?
If the responses I received were any indication, not too many people know.
Nearly every time I sought information on our local alumni I received the same response; a look of confusion followed by a shrug of the shoulders.
For the ones who did know, there was a disturbing trend. Not too many players continued with their studies or playing soccer and for the ones who did, a significant amount never made it past their first year.
Something needed to change, but how?
In 2018 I began seriously looking for answers to solve the problems facing our local players. How we do not have a local option for players to stay involved in the game and get a college education is unacceptable. The data is clear on the importance of getting a college degree and our community can not afford to let our most talented players become an all too familiar statistic without using soccer as a way to change their lives.
Naturally, trying to find answers to these questions led to Woodland Community College.
Initial conversations to start an athletic department began with former WCC President Dr. White. During our meeting we had great back-and-forth about the value of athletics for students post high school. As a former athlete, he was acutely aware of the positive impact a team environment has on an individual and their future.
In 2019, Dr. White stepped down. After exchanging emails with WCC leadership, an exploratory conversation with new WCC President Art Pimentel was scheduled. Art is a forward thinking, community oriented executive who believes in the transformative power sports can have in the lives of our local youth. We had a great conversation about the history of our local area, his vision for how WCC can impact our community and of course the COVID-19 situation. After multiple phone calls, it became apparent with the potential impacts of COVID-19 it may be some time before a full fledged program can be built out. I have no doubt in my mind that Art will be the person to accomplish this undertaking if the conditions allow and have all the confidence in the world an honest effort will be put forth to see an athletic vision through.
But as a community, what do we do until then?
After going through a variety of competing scenarios, debating how different organizations can be leveraged and in return, how to manage so many different moving parts, a thought came to mind: What if FC Davis just created its own community college team?
And just like that, FC Davis Futures was born.
FC Davis Community College Program? What is that about?
Start a hyper-local college program providing aspiring student-athletes a tangible opportunity to represent their community all while working towards a four year degree? Seems like a no brainer, right? Who wouldn’t be for that?
I had a feeling other leaders in the local soccer community felt the same way, so I began hitting the phone lines to start pitching a vision of an athletic and academic program local players in our area could call home post high school.
As I soon found out, pitching this concept was easier said than done.
Most of my initial conversations with friends went as follow:
Me: How cool would it be to have a local community college team for our players?
Friend: Holy S*%t man! That would be a total game changer...
Me: I know right! I’m thinking about creating my own team. What do you think?
Friend: Your own what?
Me: Community College Team!
Me: Through FC Davis.
Friend: Dude…what are you crazy?
Ok..the pitch needed some work, BUT, momentum was moving in the right direction!
To begin a framework, I reached out to Allan Espinoza, Andres Olmedo, Didi Cordova and Joel Rodriguez.
These four had local roots, have been involved in the local soccer scene as players and coaches for years and helped guide me through some early projects with FC Davis. Their feedback was going to be critical.
Our initial call was an eye opening, wide ranging conversation that covered everything from socioeconomic realities and educational deficiencies to how good Allan is at cutting hair (shout out to Nino’s Cut and Shave in Dixon!!!).
We talked about the struggles of our current and former local players, the lack of a pathway these players faced and how transformative a community college program would be for student-athletes in our area. Towards the end of our discussion, one thing became clear: There was A LOT of work to do.
With a vision firmly in place, a more robust conversation needed to be had with additional leaders in our local community. While the vision was clear, the project needed to deeply serve our local soccer population in a way only leaders within those communities could articulate.
With a promising framework and wind at our backs, it was time to hit the phone lines. This led to a conference call with Rudy Baltazar, Luis Gomez, Al Arevalo and members from our initial conversation.
For over an hour we took a deep dive into understanding our current soccer ecosystem and where it falls short. It was a full audit of our local soccer landscape with input from communities who all too often take the brunt of many of our areas' shortcomings.
While everyone walked away from the meeting invigorated about how transformative a local community program would be, there was one big question: How will this work?
How This Works
Trying to explain to people there is a community college team that doesn’t compete in a community college league can be a bit of a head scratcher.
Better yet, how is that even possible?
While the concept is new (trust me, I’ve looked for examples) the potential is just too mouth watering to go unexplored. Let’s face it, this is not the first time we’ve tried a concept that may have seemed crazy until proven successful (Hello FC Davis Women’s Team!)
Here we are, a tiny cutout of closely connected townships wedged between Sacramento and San Francisco that usually gets described as an inconvenient traffic jam on the way to Lake Tahoe, and in such a short period of time we have:
An NPSL Golden Gate Conference championship winning men’s team in our second season
The conference leader in attendance (two years in a row!)
A bid into the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, our country's most prestigious soccer tournament. Our men take the field next year, most likely, against Sacramento Republic (maybe in Davis! - COVID pending)
Started a community supported Women's Premier Soccer League team chalk full of some of the best (and local) women's talent in our state. We were scheduled to hit the field this past summer but due to COVID, the league was called off nationwide. Onto 2021!
And now our own community college team? Talk about making a splash on the scene!
To begin, I started dissecting “traditional” community college programs vs “our” community college program. When looking into the traditional model, flaws immediately started to surface. Some of these flaws include:
Academic requirements that are too lenient
No robust satellite or partnership programs
No spring season
No internship requirements
No mandatory community impact/volunteer hours
No required personal financial education
Don’t get me wrong, California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) programs serve an essential part of the student-athlete experience for tens of thousands of players in California. Every year players leverage the CCCAA platform to better their lives through academics and sport. It is truly an amazing organization full of leaders fighting together to move the needle forward in our state.
But with such a large number of teams, the CCCAA requirements and standards have to fit a large number of programs in order to avoid alienating players. With a couple tweaks, I think we can do it better. These changes in requirements define the experience of FC Davis Futures.
The goal of our program is simple: Provide a post high-school soccer and academic program that moves players onto four year universities with a foundation of real world experience.
This led to the formation of requirements that our program is based on. These include:
Full-Time Student at Woodland Community College
FC Davis Futures players will enroll as a full-time student at Woodland Community College. Each student-athlete will be required to complete 30 transferable units by the end of year one in order to be a part of the program their second year.
Guaranteed UC and CSU Acceptance
FC Davis Futures will leverage TAG, ASSIST and other programs available to WCC that guarantees a transfer seat to a four year school of each player's choice. Each student-athlete will be required to select five potential destinations to get their four year degree. This will allow for degree and financial planning for each college on their list.
Instead of mandating a minimum GPA that would be too low for admittance to any four year school, a player's GPA must be the minimum required by the schools of their choice. If a player has five schools on their list and the minimum guaranteed transfer GPA is 3.0, that is the number a player must meet to stay eligible on the team.
It isn’t enough to just be accepted into a four year school, student-athletes need to be accepted into a four year school with experience. As a program, we will require freshman players take on a summer internship in an area of their interest. FC Davis will leverage relationships within the local business community to help facilitate this part of a students learning plan.
Financial Literacy Program
Student debt is a problem that plagues over 45 million people. Collectively, these students owe nearly $1.6 trillion dollars. Many of these graduates and non-graduates will be stuck with the weight of bills around their neck for years, sometimes decades after leaving school. The cycle of debt can be debilitating to getting a start in life and we plan to do something about it for our student-athletes. Every player will be required to complete a personal finance course followed by a personal finance plan. This course will cover credit cards and retirement accounts as well as opening up bank accounts and building credit.
Giving back to the community is a critical component of the development of student-athletes. As a team, players will need to complete 30 hours of community service each season. These hours can be served at nursing homes, animal shelters, or any area student-athletes want to give back.
An added bonus?
Players who want to continue playing soccer at a four year school will have an amazing platform for achieving their goals.
We believe the above requirements have the chance to change individuals lives, families trajectories and the communities in which they live.
By now you may be thinking, who is eligible to play on the team?
Who Can Play
It’s hard to gain a roster spot on a college soccer team.
There simply aren’t enough programs for the number of student-athletes looking to play post high school. For players in our community, the problem is compounded by not having a local option aside from the UC Davis D-I program, and they are real, real good!
In order to provide players a local program that will be available to them, we are committing to forming a team that represents the towns in which FC Davis lives.
FC Davis Futures will source a majority of our roster from local standouts at the following high schools:
Davis High School
Dixon High School
Woodland High School
Pioneer High School
Winters High School
Vacaville High School
Will C. Wood High School
Esparto High School
A select number of spots will be held for players at the following schools:
Natomas High School
Inderkum High School
River City High School
Fairfield High School
Armijo High School
Vanden High School
Rodriguez High School
There will also be a select number of spots available for players who recently graduated from our local high schools and are looking to get their education back on track. This is a critically important option for those that want to use the game of soccer as a platform to move their life forward.
FC Davis is applying to put our Futures program in the UPSL, a national amateur league that has local teams from Sacramento and Elk Grove to Vacaville and Fairfield. It is critical that players who want to pursue college soccer at a four year school are prepared to make the jump. The UPSL will be a perfect fit for this goal with competition at a level that is on par or above collegiate play.
FC Davis Futures was scheduled to launch in Fall of 2021. Due to COVID, the program's inaugural season will be Fall of 2022.
Once normalcy returns, formal recruiting will begin for the class of 2022.
FC Davis will have recruiting coordinators for each town that has an eligible high school program.
Coordinators will be equipped with full program information and will be each school's resource for program operations. Coordinators information will be listed under of Futures Team page.
Player recruiting and evaluations will take place at high school and club matches.
Student-athletes can enter in their information to our recruiting database starting their freshman year of high school. This information will be used by our staff and coordinators to monitor player development during their high school years.
If you are a local business or foundation that would like to be a part of the program, please reach out to our staff at email@example.com
For program updates, follow our social media page and subscribe to our email list.
FC Davis is thrilled to start another amazing project for our community. We look forward providing another player pathway that will inspire countless high school student-athletes in our local area. We plan to try and make this program available to our local girls players once a year long women's league is built out.