SAN DIEGO - The Cal State San Marcos men's soccer team is off to their best start in four years. That's in small part to freshman Juan Camilo Salazar, who left behind his family in Colombia to pursue his dream of playing soccer at the collegiate level.
"We didn't have anything but a suitcase and a dream and an airport and that's it," said Salazar.
Two years ago, Salazar left his home country of Colombia with his mom in hopes of becoming a better student and soccer player in the United States.
"The culture is different so coming here without knowing no English, the food, my family," he said. "My dad, my brother, my grandpa, I have all family in Colombia so I really miss them a lot so it's been really tough."
But worth it as Salazar's American dream continues to unfold. After graduating from Mission Hills High School last year, the 19-year-old became the first generation student athlete in his family, accepting a scholarship to play soccer for CSUSM.
"Since I was four years old, I knew that I wanted to be a professional soccer player so when you see that and you see that it's a real thing, then the bigger the dream, the bigger the grind," said Salazar. "I never get content, I always work hard, so the day I committed here, the thing I did the next day was work harder than the day before because I knew the challenge was going to be super hard."
"People that have watched him say he doesn't look like a freshman because physically he's built like a man already and he brings a different mind set and a different set of psychology to the game that a more mature and experienced player would bring," said head coach Ron Pulvers.
Salazar spent his childhood playing soccer on dirt fields, using rocks for goals and often times competing with much older kids. He says soccer abroad tends to be more technical, allowing him to bring a unique edge to his game.
"It was really born in the streets," said Salazar. "That soccer where you just do whatever you want to do and you don't have a coach telling you what to do so you just feel yourself."
"I think his technical skills and his creativity and the inventiveness that he has in his game is because he's had to do that in difficult environments," said Pulvers.
Salazar earned the first CCAA player of the week award in September. He says his motivation continues to be his mom and wanting to make his family proud. Others might say it's simply just who Salazar is.
"I just did the right thing everyday," he said. "Treating people well, giving thanks to God, just doing the right thing and the right things happen so I'm just going to keep doing the same stuff and see what happens in the future."
A future that continues to look awfully bright.