New soccer coach looks to hit the ground running

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By Scott Akanewich

Felix Esparza found himself on a football field during his high school days at United High School in Laredo, only it was as a linebacker and defensive back in the American version as opposed to the global game going by the same name.

However, he always had more of a soccer brain and now Esparza has been charged with leading his own side after being named Liberty Hill’s new head boys’ soccer coach.

Although someday becoming a coach wasn’t always necessarily the plan, he said.

“About halfway through college, I decided I wanted to be a coach,” said Esparza, 30, who was most recently an assistant varsity coach at John Marshall High School in San Antonio. “I remembered my coach in high school once saying he never worked a day in his life because he loved what he did.”

Safe to say what Esparza may be lacking in experience – as this is his first head-coaching position – he more than makes up for with enthusiasm and a desire to learn and has an excellent role model to emulate in Lady Panthers head coach Darren Bauer, he said.

“I would be nervous if Coach Bauer wasn’t here,” said Esparza. “But, he’s here to show me the way and it’s great having the chance to learn from someone who’s been so successful.”

Esparza said he prefers a possession-based game and one in which players have the willingness to be selfless.

“We want the ball to do the work and be unselfish,” he said. “But, I believe it’s important to use a system which suits your players.”

Ezparza credits Marshall head coach Mario Flores, who he worked under for the past three years, for helping further develop his coaching philosophy.

“He really expanded my knowledge and understanding of the game,” he said.

According to Esparza, perhaps the most critical element in establishing the kind of culture he wants his team to embrace is always having open lines of communication – and it can work both ways up and down the chain-of-command.

“I really want to build trust with my players,” said Esparza. “I’ll always tell them the truth, but I also want to know what’s going on in their minds.”

Interestingly enough, Ezparza was majoring in kinesiology at Texas A&M University International when he decided to also minor in science in order to open up more teaching positions for himself and that kind of wisdom is what has landed him in Liberty Hill, where he will attempt to infuse the same kind of desire into his new players – along with a healthy dose of two-way ownership, he said.

“Accountability is a big thing for me as a coach,” said Esparza. “But, I also want my players to hold me accountable.”

Even down to the smallest of details, he said.

“For example, whenever you step on the field, you always hustle,” said Esparza.

Following a rough season last year that saw the Panthers miss out on the playoffs, Esparza will take over a team whose roster is filled with youth and untapped potential.

“These guys have talent,” he said. “But, it’s up to me to get it out of them.”

Esparza is currently in the process of moving to the area with wife Angela and will soon settle in with the school year – and the new season – rapidly closing in, a process he is highly anticipating.

“I’m looking forward to building relationships with the community,” said Esparza. “I want people to come up and talk to me.”

As far as the one characteristic he wants his players to exude more than any other, the choice is clear, he said.

“Confidence,” said Esparza. “I want them to be confident in themselves, in their teammates and in the ability to win.”

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