Sept. 16, 2010
Soccer's Hector Jimenez First in His Family to Earn College Degree
By Dean Caparez '90
Cal Athletic Media Relations
Originally published in the Fall 2010 issue of the Cal Sports Quarterly.
BERKELEY - Soccer has lifted Hector Jimenez to new heights throughout his life, and his time at California is no exception.
The senior midfielder has earned All-Pac-10 first-team status, as well as gained several academic accolades, the past two years, all while developing into one of the top playmakers in program history.
But no matter how the Golden Bears do on the field this season, Jimenez will conclude his time in Berkeley in unique fashion thanks to his work in the classroom. A social welfare major, the fifth-year senior will be-come the first member of his family to graduate from college. Jimenez participated in a graduation ceremony at the end of the 2010 spring semester but will officially earn his degree after the fall semester.
"It's huge," Jimenez said. "Both my parents cried when I walked. I haven't graduated yet, but it's big in my family. I have a huge, extended family, and I'll be the first one to graduate. I'm leading by example. It's been a long five years."
After an admittedly difficult sophomore year in the classroom, Jimenez rebounded to garner Pac-10 All-Academic second-team honors for the 2008 season. He duplicated that feat in 2009, when he also gained a spot on the ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District 8 team.
"He's very devoted to academics," head coach Kevin Grimes said. "He's worked extremely hard to get himself acclimated to the Cal academic environment. That's always a tough transition for a kid coming from high school to college. For Hector that might've been a little more challenging. He's done a great job since, and he's doing very well in school."
Jimenez credits his parents, Dalila and Mauricio, for pushing him to excel academically and in soccer. His father played soccer for semi-professional teams and also wore the No. 16 jersey that son Hector would later adopt as a youth player. Hector Jimenez added to the family pedigree by playing for an elite youth club and for a youth national team.
A product of Bell Gardens, Calif., Jimenez starred for Bell Gardens High School and the Arsenal Football Club, which featured future Cal teammate Davis Paul. He won U.S. Youth Soccer national titles at the Under-15, Under-16 and Under-17 levels with Arsenal and parlayed his success into stints with the U.S. U-17 National Team in 2004 and 2005. Jimenez spent part of 2005 in a U.S. U-17 residency camp that included 2010 U.S. World Cup forward Jozy Altidore.
Soccer played a key role in steering Jimenez clear of the troubles that afflicted other kids growing up in his southern California neighborhood. Whether it was because he was playing and traveling with Arsenal or living in the full-time U.S. U-17 residency program in Florida, Jimenez stayed away from the situations that put some of his contemporaries behind bars.
Besides ensuring Hector stayed out of trouble, Mauricio Jimenez coached him to play in a certain way - as the player who sets up his teammates.
"I love players like [former French star] Zinedine Zidane; just playmakers," the younger Jimenez said. "That's what my dad wanted me to be. I started playing for my dad on the Bell Gardens Tigers back in the day. My dad was always saying, `I don't want you to score; I want you to assist.' Growing up, it was hard because all my other teammates were scoring. I was a little kid. I cried, `Why can't I score?' But he always told me to assist other people and make the people around me better."
Now wearing No. 9 at Cal, Jimenez fits in well with the Bears' possession style of play. The 5-9, 140-pound midfielder needs just two assists to move into second place in the school record books. He needs 19 more to surpass the Cal record of 40. Jimenez bounced back from a broken leg that ended his 2008 season to collect a Pac-10 leading and career-high nine assists in 2009, giving him 22 for his career, which ranks third all-time at Cal.
He hopes that a talented, veteran squad - Jimenez is one of seven seniors on the team - will change Cal's fortunes in 2010 after several injuries derailed the Bears last year, causing them to miss out on the NCAA playoffs. As one of the more experienced members of the team, Jimenez has joined fellow seniors A.J. Soares and Servando Carrasco as a team captain this year.
"This summer, all of us have been up here preparing for the season and getting everybody on the same track," Jimenez said. "It's the final season for seven of us, and we all want to end on a good note. We want to prepare as much as we can so we can put ourselves in a good position. Hopefully we don't have any injuries this season. We have a lot of talent and a lot of experience. Everyone's got the right mindset and has a lot of heart. Hopefully the marbles roll our way this season and we can go far."
After he completes his time with the Bears, the talented playmaker has a shot to become the latest in a long line of Grimes' players to enter the professional ranks, whether it's with former teammate Andrew Wiedeman in Major League Soccer or elsewhere.
Whenever his playing career is over, Jimenez wants to put his studies to good use by giving making sure children in his community stay in school.
"Where I grew up, there are a lot of kids who don't have the opportunity I have," Jimenez said. "Their parents don't really push them or support them. My parents were always there for me, and at school I always had someone pushing me and advising me. I want to do that if soccer doesn't work out for me - be a counselor to kids. I went through it, so I want to help kids out. A lot of guys where I grew up have a lot of talent, soccer-wise, but don't have the education or the grades, and they never make it far.
"I know how it feels when somebody helps you out. It feels good."