By John Philip Wyllie
At 13-1-1 heading into this week’s league opener, Hilltop High School is looking more and more like the team to beat in men’s South Bay soccer. With an attack led by top scorer Chris Diaz, a midfield controlled by playmaking Venezuelan exchange student Diego Diaz and a defense anchored by goalkeeper Jose Castro, the Lancers offer a lineup that is solid from top to bottom. Junior sweeper Ruben Rodriguez, a team captain, might be the most outstanding player on a team that is dripping with talent.
“Ruben has a passion for the game and an all out intensity and fire,”according to his coach, John Salts. “He was our only freshman starter two years ago and when he graduates next year, he will definitely go on to play for a Division I college team.”
Rodriguez is one the biggest reasons why Hilltop has broken into the county’s Top Ten rankings, the lone South Bay side to do so this season.
After winning the Grossmont and Coronado tournaments and notching victories over highly regarded teams like Steele Canyon, Oceanside and Westview, the Lancers finally got some well deserved recognition when they were selected as the county’s number seven team in this week’s San Diego Union-Tribune poll. Individually, Rodriguez recently garnered MVP honors for his contributions toward winning the Grossmont Tournament. While the accolades are welcome, the ultimate goal of Rodriguez and this Lancer team is to capture the Division II CIF San Diego Section Championship.
Salts is delighted to have a player like Rodriguez spearheading that quest.
“Ruben is always the first player to arrive at practice and the last one to leave. He never lets up. He puts everything he has on to the field and he does everything he can to make this a team sport. Ruben makes the players around him better.”
Although he is only a junior, Rodriguez is already looking beyond high school. Every bit as good in the classroom as he is on the soccer field he should have lots of post-prep options. His 4.2 G.P.A. attests to the fact that he has been able to balance athletics and academics with little apparent difficulty. He has also found the time to be active in MechA and in the campus French club. Rodri-guez hopes to one day study engineering or architecture. He also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of someday playing soccer professionally.
His success is all the more remarkable considering that his parents grew up in a very different culture across the border in Mexico. Rodriguez’s family ties with Tijuana and Guadalajara remain strong. Fluent in two languages and learning a third, he feels at ease living in both cultures. He probably feels the most comfortable however, whenever he is engaging in the international language of soccer.