Century’s Sergio Varela: a role model on and off the football pitch

Sergio Varela was just a toddler, but about 13 years later the memories remain.

He would visit his older cousin’s football practices, spend the last moments before they started to pass a ball, then watch from the car as the team trained.

Since then, there is a balloon at his feet.

Varela, or “Yahir” as his relatives affectionately call him, is now 16, a high school student and Century Jaguars star midfielder. And the little kid whose love of football was born watching these practices has grown into an exemplary older brother on his way to becoming a first generation student.

Now it’s Varela who devotes time to the younger family members before training. His club coach Lisa Harings says he won’t even enter the training ground until his 13-year-old sister Jasmine begins her club training on an adjacent pitch. And even when he finally joins his team-mates, Harings often catches Varela taking sneaky glances to make sure her sister is okay.

“He’s a role model for his brother (Antonio, 8) and sister,” Harings said. “He takes them everywhere with him.

Family, football. Rinse, repeat.

When he was 3, Varela moved to a tiny Hillsboro house nestled next to a small grass field, and he and his siblings played football there almost every day with neighbors.

This is the house where Varela started with her homework, which allowed her to become a 4.0 student at Century. The house where, during the first months of the pandemic, he learned that his father had lost his job as a line cook. The house where, for months, he supported his younger siblings as the family lived off his mother’s salary from working in a retirement home. The same house he will proudly leave in two years as he becomes a first generation student and, quite possibly, a college football player.

“I’m the oldest, so I want to set an example for my brother and sister,” Varela said. “I want them to do better than me in life. I want them to be more successful than me.

Varela works tirelessly, both to hone his football skills – which are defined by an innate blend of vision, speed and enhanced physique – and to position himself for the academic rigors of college. He has the full support of his parents, but it was Harings, who first spotted his potential, guiding the ship. Harings, who is also a coach at Nelson High School, first met Varela in 2018, when he was the only freshman to land on an all-league team, winning second-team honors of the All-Pacific Conference.

Varela was watching her sister’s club training, when Harings spotted him and asked if he wanted to participate and work with his team.

“I said, ‘I know who you are, you can compete with these kids,'” she said.

Their relationship developed from there and Varela went on to join one of his club teams, becoming a key contributor even though he was playing an age group. Now in his second year on the program, Varela has developed so much under Harings’ tutelage that he hopes to play at the next level.

“When she’s on the pitch, she transforms,” he said of Harings. “She’s so passionate… she just wants us to be better than we think.”

Colleges were only recently allowed to contact Varela, but Harings encouraged him to be proactive. He therefore contacted schools to generate interest and attends high-level camps – such as the regional Olympic Development Program camp – to make himself known.

“I’m still at a young age so I still have time to go out and improve myself and achieve those goals that I have set for myself,” he said.

Harings holds him back.

“Any college that picks it up, they won’t be disappointed with what they get,” she said. “Having a talented and coachable person (like Varela is) hard to come by these days. “

– Shane Hoffmann, for The Oregonian / OregonLive