Entering Desert Mirage High School at 4 feet, 10 inches tall, Jimmie Villalobos brought unforeseeable talent to the men’s soccer team.
A native of Oasis in Riverside County, Villalobos started playing soccer at age 4 and immediately fell in love.
“Since I touched the ball and saw my dad’s footsteps, I wanted to pursue a soccer career,” Villalobos said.
Villalobos, who played center-mid, was a four-year varsity player at Desert Mirage High School. His sophomore year was interrupted by injuries and Villalobos decided it would be best to take a year away from soccer and focus on getting his body ready for next season.
Villalobos decided to use the summer prior to his junior year developing himself on and off the field in order to become the player he believed he could be. He began sculpting his body to be in the best playing shape possible. Villalobos also joined a club soccer team that played consistently.
Villalobos said his junior season was a “magical year,” after returning from the season-ending injury. Villalobos’ contributions playing center-mid helped the team secure a Division 6 CIF Championship in 2012.
The Desert Mirage Rams were unable to make their way back to CIF, but Villalobos was named Most Valuable Player for 2012 and 2013, also earning Athlete of the Year for 2013.
Although Villalobos found success in high school, soccer was bigger than a game. Struggling with family troubles at home, Villalobos got off to a slow start academically and that ultimately held him back from attending a division I, II or NCAA-status university for soccer.
Villalobos spoke with his family and addressed the ongoing issues at home. As the thought of leaving the game he loved for good loomed over him, he made the decision to power through and play for College of the Desert.
“I just took my time and told myself that I’m able to do whatever I want if I put my effort and hard work into it,” Villalobos said.
Just a 45-minute drive away, Villalobos spent the 2014-2015 season as a Roadrunner. “I had to put my academics first and I played a year of soccer there,” Villalobos said. After a year with the team, Villalobos realized the program wasn’t beneficial for his growth.
Villalobos found himself away from soccer and more focused on obtaining his associate of arts degree. He received his degree after two years and was ready to take on new challenges.
Villalobos wanted more than what was offered to him at College of the Desert, and he found what he was looking for after arriving at Cal Poly Pomona.
“It was a huge change, but a good change,” said Villalobos. “I kept telling my girlfriend and family that I’m ready. I’m ready for change and a different routine.”
Villalobos was unaccustomed to the quarter system, which is six weeks less than the standard 16-week semester system. He found himself surrounded by advisors and coaches who supported him on and off the soccer field. Villalobos had never been assigned to attend study hall or had advisors to guide him.
During the 2018 season, Villalobos scored eight goals before his opportunities to score were cut short. With new recruits, injuries and ineligible players, 2018 head coach Adam Reeves requested Villalobos to drop down to defense.
“I could play whatever position so I didn’t mind, but I knew I wasn’t going to score as much,” Villalobos said. “I told coach whatever I could help the team with, whatever I could do to help the team go further.”
Villalobos has kicked off his senior year at an astonishing rate, scoring in eight consecutive matches. After recording his 10th goal of the season against Stanislaus State on Sunday, Villalobos has surpassed the amount of goals he scored in the 2018 season.
With seven matches left on the regular season, Villalobos will have plenty of opportunities to set a new career record as he continues on this hot streak.
“Jimmie has been playing great the past few weeks,” Bronco senior defender Ori Kenett said. “He is obviously very important on the field, but his contributions off the field is enormous as well. I am very happy for him and won’t be surprised if he will finish as the CCAA Top Scorer.”
Villalobos earned CCAA Men’s Soccer Player of the Week for Sept. 30-Oct. 6 as a result of his incredible start.
“I always tell my teammates, if it wasn’t for them none of this would happen,” Villalobos said. “I’m always grateful for having this group of quality players that have provided me with opportunities to score in every single game.”
Villalobos also gave much of the credit to his girlfriend who has encouraged him to play better every game. “She is always telling me I need two (goals) every game; I need three goals every game,” Villalobos said. “She’s always on my head about doing better and needing to be better.”
As the awards continue to pile up for Villalobos’ soccer career, he remains focused on soccer being a team sport.
“I’m always so grateful for the accomplishments I’m making, but that’s not going to put us in a position where we can win and get to the big stage again,” Villalobos said. “Day in and day out, I’m still grinding and trying to be perfect at what I can do to help the team get those wins.”
Head coach Matt O’Sullivan has been nothing short of pleased by Villalobos’ performances thus far. “Now look, he knows as much as the individual success he’s had, it doesn’t really mean much to him,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously, it’s cool for him to score a lot of goals and to get awards but he knows the big prize and it’s for the team to win.”
As Villalobos’ tenure with the team will soon be over, his presence will be missed.
“I think his leadership is brilliant. He’s fantastic with the younger guys,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s got a lot of patience but he’s also very positive.”
As for Villalobos’ future, he continues to shine on the soccer field and is currently studying for a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology with emphasis in pedagogy.
“My first plan has always been getting a professional contract,” Villalobos said. “I’ve always wanted to pursue my soccer career but at the same time I want to start my career in pedagogy.”
Villalobos aspires to become a physical education teacher and help kids with disabilities.
“Back in my community, where I live, the physical education programs out there are not good,” Villalobos said. “I could go and give back to the community and implement a different teaching style to improve physical education.”
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