CARSON, Calif. – Watch Gyasi Zardes on the soccer pitch and two things immediately come to mind.
The first, of course, is the forward’s signature blonde Mohawk, but the next thing the eye is drawn to is his world-class athleticism that has made him an integral part of the LA Galaxy and the U.S. National Team.
That ability and the rest of his skills didn’t take root with the LA Galaxy or even Cal-State Bakersfield, but during Zardes’ time playing soccer at Leuzinger High School.
“High school played a huge role in my development because I grew from a short kid into a man. When I was a freshman, I was skinny and small, and I was playing against guys that were four years older that were faster with better ball skills than mine. I had to adapt quickly,” Zardes told LAGalaxy.com. “It was great to play against older kids because once I played against kids in my age group, I was able to have the experience of playing against those that were bigger and stronger than I was. High school also molded me into a better teammate, and I found myself rising above my teammates and my opponents.”
Zardes truly rose above as he was an all-league talent for the Olympians. Even leading the team in goals scored during his tenure.
However, before Zardes flourished, he was a lanky freshman looking to catch the attention of Leuzinger head soccer coach Hugo Ramirez. An old school taskmaster, Ramirez emphasized the importance of personal and physical growth and found a willing pupil in Zardes.
It was by running lap after lap under Ramirez’s watch that Zardes’ renowned fitness was developed as he grew from a gangly kid to a top athlete.
“Hugo Ramirez made a huge impact when I was playing high school soccer. He was my coach all four years, and he was an old school coach. Fitness, we had a sixth period where we’d run the entire period. The first time, I felt like I was dead after a couple of laps. We’d run just to play,” Zardes recalls. “Over time, I started noticing my stamina building. He also helped my ball skills. He did so much for the community and the kids at Leuzinger. The ones that paid attention to him really benefited from him. Me as a player personally, I thank him for all that he’s done.
“He helped me grow in high school because I noticed that I became sharper in terms of my ball skills and my speed increased. High school years are very important years for young soccer players.”
And as he looks back on his past, the accomplished Zardes feels that he owes a great deal of his success to Ramirez’s tutelage.
“I have a huge connection to the school,” Zardes said. “[Coach Ramirez] plays a vital role at Leuzinger high school to this day. Kids that are still playing there, he’s still making a huge impact. I thank him for taking the time for all of those kids because I was once of them once.”
And once the journey from Hawthorne to Leuzinger High to soccer stardom is complete, how does Zardes want to be remembered? According to the Galaxy star, it will be his ability to pass along the teaching of those like Ramirez to the next generation.
“If it were up to me, it would be great to have a legacy built on serving others. I want to make the most of my opportunity while I’m a professional soccer player or even after my career. I want to provide opportunities for the next generation to succeed. I’m trying to start a club team, and I’m trying to have kids learn things about the game of soccer at a young age. There are so many great athletes in the city of Hawthorne, but they don’t have the knowledge or the resources.
“I’m just going to try to use the platform that I’ve been blessed with to help the younger generation succeed.”