A familiar face was missing from the sidelines during the Central Valley High School boys soccer team’s season this past year.
Longtime head coach Omar Leon stepped down the summer leading up to the 2020-21campaign.
“I need to spend more time with my family and focus on my academic goals,” he said. “My daughter (Mona) is growing. She’s in the third grade. I realized I’ve been missing a lot of her things. There were multiple times she got recognized at school and I wasn’t there. That’s not right. I also decided to go back to school. I’ve always wanted to get a master’s degree.”
“He’s one of the most decorated coaches in boys soccer in the Sac-Joaquin Section,” Central Valley Athletic Director Greg Magni said. “It would be hard to find someone who’s had as much success as he had. He did a wonderful job.”
Leon is the winningest coach in Central Valley’s sports history.
The Hawks won eight conference titles, advanced to the section finals seven times and participated in the playoffs every season during Leon’s 12-year tenure.
“The players are the ones that deserve most of the credit,” Leon said. “It was countless hours of conditioning, training and fundraising. I had great assistant coaches and parents. It was teamwork from everybody.”
“He was so good at it (coaching),” Magni said. “He has a strong knowledge of the game. He knows how to get the most of his players. His main goal was to prepare student-athletes to be great adults. He used his personal experiences, challenges and successes to inspire these kids to pursue their own dreams.”
“Coaching high school sports is a year-round commitment,” Leon said. “It’s nonstop. The relationships you build with the players, families and community is very special. I miss everything. The planning. The competition. The bus trips. Good memories.”
Leon had host of players earn scholarships to four-year colleges, including Ozzie Ramos (San Diego State), Gerardo Cazares (Stanislaus State) and Andres Velasquez (UC Davis).
“It’s a good feeling knowing you contributed a little bit to make that possible,” Leon said. “Academics come first. You have to be good students before you can be good athletes.”
“He was a great leader,” said Ramos, a 2014 Central Valley grad who was voted league MVP twice while playing three seasons of soccer for Leon. “He was strict. He was hard on players. But you knew he cared about you. He had your back. He’s helped a lot of guys, not only on the soccer side, but as a person.”
"He was a mentor. I don’t think there will be a coach that will be as consistent as he was. He accomplished so much.”Gerardo Cazares
“He was very passionate about the sport and he always wanted to win,” said Cazares, a 2011 CV grad who was named conference MVP during his third and final season with the Hawks. “He’d encourage us to always give 100 percent on the field and in the classroom. It wasn’t just about soccer. He was a mentor. I don’t think there will be a coach that will be as consistent as he was. He accomplished so much.”
Velasquez was a member of two of Leon’s teams. The 2017 CV grad’s production on the field earned him league MVP honors senior year.
“The environment he (Leon) creates brings the best out of his teams,” Velasquez said. “He makes it enjoyable. He makes you want to practice. He’s a great guy and coach. A lot of players can vouch for me.”
Central Valley made its seventh appearance in the Sac-Joaquin Section finals during Leon’s final season as head coach in 2019-20.
The second-seeded Hawks had to settle for runner-up honors, losing 4-3 in a penalty-kick shootout to the fifth-seeded Bella Vista Broncos in the Division-II championship game.
The Broncos earned their third straight section title. Bella Vista edged Central Valley 3-2 on penalty kicks in 2019.
The Hawks lost in the section finals for the third time in four years.
Central Valley’s grueling postseason run ended with a loss to eventual-champion Sanger in the first round of the CIF Northern California Regional Division-II Championship Tournament. The third-seeded Apaches edged the sixth-seeded Hawks 8-7 on PKs.
Central Valley amassed a 20-5-3 overall record and finished first in the Central California Conference standings (9-1-2) for the second year in a row.
“I’m very satisfied with how we did,” Leon said while assessing his coaching career. “When they asked me to coach over a decade ago, I never thought we’d be this successful. The only thing I regret is not winning a section title. We should have at least two. We were very close.”
“He had great teams year after year,” Velasquez said. “He knew how to get players going by believing in them. You won’t be able to appreciate what he did until time passes. He made history for Central Valley.”
“Not winning a section title takes nothing away from what he did,” Cazares said. “The responsibility was on the players, including me. I blame us.”
“If he would have allowed us to slack off, he wouldn’t be the winningest coach,” Ramos said. “He wanted us to be better every time we were training and in games. Standards were high.”
Leon started teaching and coaching at Central Valley High School during the 2008-09 school year.
He taught Spanish for 31/2 years at Tracy High School prior to being hired by Ceres Unified School District.
A 13th-year Spanish teacher at Central Valley, Leon volunteered to serve as department chair for Modern Language in 2021-22.
“The most satisfying part is seeing a kid graduating, going to college and pursuing a career,” Leon said. “The students relate to me because their stories are like mine. I used to work in the fields with some of their parents and grandparents.”
Leon believes his career path from undocumented field worker to educator/coach was predetermined by a higher power.
He became a U.S citizen in 2014.
He’s the first male from his family to graduate from high school and college.
He attended Escalon High School, Modesto Junior College and Stanislaus State.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in Spanish and teaching credential from Stanislaus State.
“I look up to him (Leon),” Cazares said.