Sometimes in professional sports, a player is more than just an athlete. He or she embodies what the game is about and is a representative of the city they play in. This doesn't happen in high school sports, where players wear the uniform for four years before they give way to a new crop.
But four years was more than enough time for Erik Montes to leave an everlasting mark on Richmond and on soccer in the East Bay. After a junior year that saw him combine for 59 goals and assists, he is once again the Bay Area News Group's East Bay Player of the Year.
The senior midfielder, known as 'Chincho,' led the East Bay with 37 goals, and was also fourth in the area with 15 assists, but beyond the numbers is what makes him so special.
"Soccer is very special at Richmond High and in the community," Richmond coach Rene Siles said. "We have that chance that every year our team becomes a real family, maybe even closer than a family in a way. Every kid has their own struggles, and we are there for each other, no matter what may happen.
"And really it doesn't matter at this level if you win or lose. You've found something, that perhaps you will never find again when you get out of Richmond High."
Siles added that Montes has gone through plenty of obstacles in his young life.
"He has beat them one by one, together with his teammates, to get where he is," Siles said. "This is an incredible message of hope for his teammates, but also for
Montes, for his part, is very aware that he was part of something special playing at Richmond High.
"I'm very glad I played in Richmond for my school and my community," Montes said. "It feels great knowing that I left doing something for Richmond High."
Siles noted Montes' ability to see plays develop two or three passes ahead, plays with the right angles and the right pace.
"He is the kind of player who makes soccer fun. We are not talking about athleticism, speed, strength which are important, but are peripheral to the game," Siles said. "We are talking about the essence of the game."
Siles was lucky enough to see Montes grow as a player, and a person, not only the last four years, but when he started coming around the field as the youngest of four brothers in 2004.
"It is so nice to have seen him mature and become the player and the person he is," Siles said. "I loved coaching him because he understood everything very quickly, was told to do something and would do it right away. He is a very caring person, for his parents, his baby, his girlfriend. I think the birth of Aubree helped him mature greatly, and gave him a solid grounding."