Decatur striker keeps promise to Smith, will play college soccer

When Angel Trejo-Delgado makes a promise, it is nonnegotiable.

In the last six years, the senior striker for the Decatur Golden Gators soccer team, has made two promises: one to himself, and the other to his former coach, who passed away from pancreatic cancer last March.

Trejo-Delgado has made good on both. By focusing on himself, he’s transformed from a sluggish goalkeeper to a slashing, goal-scoring forward. He led his academy club this summer, scoring 39 of its 44 goals and he currently sits atop the North Puget Sound League with 10 goals through nine games.

A PROMISE TO BE BETTER

For Trejo-Delgado, his success in 2017 was no fluke.

“It’s the results of all the hard work,” Trejo-Delgado said. “It’s great that it’s paying off. Now it’s great to be back with Decatur, with my team, my friends, my brothers. We’re working hard for the wins.”

Trejo-Delgado’s hard work started when he made a promise to himself as a seventh-grader. He promised to live a healthier lifestyle before his health forced soccer to become an afterthought.

At 12 years old, he was overweight and out of shape. He had talent, which his youth coaches at Federal Way FC recognized immediately. But Trejo-Delgado struggled to run on the pitch, and he wasn’t fit enough to play an infield position, so he was relegated to a goalkeeper.

When Trejo-Delgado became tired and sluggish by simply sitting in a classroom, however, he and his family knew his problem was something far worse than poor eating habits.

A routine doctor appointment revealed he was a borderline diabetic. The doctor got Trejo-Delgado’s attention by telling him it could cost him soccer if the condition got worse.

It was then, in the exam room, that Trejo-Delgado made the promise to change. Poor eating habits were not going to derail his dream of playing soccer. He vowed to not only defeat diabetes, he was determined to move from the goal posts to the infield.

“I just remember thinking there was no way that could be happening,” Trejo-Delgado said. “I’m way too young for that.”

So Trejo-Delgado began running.

Initially, he couldn’t run more than a few yards before being completely exhausted. A few yards then became half a mile, then a mile, then two, then three. The weight began to melt away, and he signed up for additional soccer leagues with the goal of cutting his weight down even more.

Current Decatur manager Brad Plemons has coached youth soccer in Federal Way for 12 years with the Boys & Girls Club and Federal Way FC. During those years, Plemons worked with numerous players who were at risk with their weight.

Plemons saw a number of them have the same epiphany his captain had as a youth player and said watching the moment unfold is always unforgettable.

“I’ve seen multiple players have that self-recognition moment,” Plemons said. “I love it when players realize that on their own. If they want to be healthy, if they want to do better, they have to do more.”

A PROMISE TO SUCCEED

Because of his hard work, Trejo-Delgado quickly moved to the infield as a forward and proved he could score goals. He then set to prove himself to then-Gators manager Sean Smith, who questioned Trejo-Delgado’s consistency on the pitch.

After a solid freshman season playing varsity, Trejo-Delgado was looking forward to doing the same his sophomore year when he and the Decatur soccer family were crushed to learn Smith had stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

With a heavy heart, Decatur won 13 games the following season, just missing the postseason, while Smith’s condition worsened. In early March of 2016, players were informed it was time to say their goodbyes.

Trejo-Delgado wasn’t satisfied with saying goodbye, and instead made the second big vow of his soccer career.

“I didn’t say goodbye,” Trejo-Delgado said. “I made him a promise. He gave me the opportunity to keep playing soccer, and I intended to pay him back by playing college soccer.”

Smith passed away on March 13, 2016. Trejo-Delgado started the long road of honoring that promise the next day.

In the months leading up to his senior season, Trejo-Delgado never took a day off. Between academy practice commitments, he stayed on the pitch for extra hours at a time honing his skills.

Plemons, whom Trejo-Delgado had already impressed with his determination to lose weight, said his player’s drive and persistence since Smith’s passing has led to an even bigger transformation.

“I wish I had a whole team of Angels,” Plemons, who now coaches Dec said. “Angel found something that drives him and makes him a better person. As a young individual, the sooner you find that, the better off you’ll be as an adult. It’s about finding what motivates you, what can move you, what can get you to be a better person. I think Angel’s found that and is showing that this year.”

Between academy play and the high school regular season, Trejo-Delgado has scored 49 goals in 2017 and he has played a major role in Decatur’s 6-2 start to the season.

“The difference between a normal player and a good player is the way he controls the game, his touch, movement off the ball,” Trejo-Delgado said. “One person can control the game. I want to be that player.”

Because of his Trejo-Delgado’s promises to himself and Smith and his resulting success, his goal of playing college soccer will become a reality.

Trejo-Delgado currently has scholarship offers from Evergreen State, Humboldt State and Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. He is also being scouted by Northwest Nazarene and Nova Southeastern University.

Through his soccer career, Trejo-Delgado knew he wouldn’t lose weight without hard work or succeed in Smith’s program by just being “good enough.”

“It’s a legacy he left behind,” Trejo-Delgado said. “I want to leave it behind, too. He gave me the chance to keep on playing. I’m playing for him, my teammates, myself and my coaches. It’s just been an all-around effort for how things are turning out right now.”

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