RIO GRANDE — Growing up in Chile, Patricio Guerra had never heard of Ohio. Rio Grande was a world away from his small Chilean village of Con Con. But the rural southeastern Ohio town and its university would change Guerra’s life forever.
As a 13-year-old, Guerra worked alongside his grandfather, putting in long summer days as a gardener.
“In the beginning it was very hard,” Guerra said.
Despite his blue-collar upbringing, Guerra had bigger dreams. The teenager worked hard, saving money for years, and in 2012 finally earned enough for a trip to Brazil and the chance of a lifetime.
Traveling by bus and then by train, Guerra went to Brazil on a mission to showcase his soccer skills at a 2SV scouting camp. Coaches from all over the world were in attendance, including the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College’s Head Coach Scott Morrissey.
“The longer the day went and the more soccer I watched, I kept gravitating back to Patricio,” Morrissey said.
With the help of an interpreter, Morrissey offered Guerra a scholarship to play soccer for one of the United State’s top NAIA programs, Rio Grande’s RedStorm.
“Thank God he gave me the chance to come to Ohio, play soccer and study,” Guerra said.
With the help of his community, Guerra raised enough money to buy a plane ticket to the United States and enroll at the University of Rio Grande. But the challenges didn’t end there.
“The first thing was the language because I couldn’t speak English very well,” Guerra said. In fact, Guerra did not speak a single word of English when he came to the United States, but in less than two years, he learned the language and now carries a 3.9 grade point average.
Guerra credits the Rio Grande faculty and his classmates for the smooth transition to a new culture.
“I like the most about the people because all the teachers know your name and will give you extra time for work whether you’re on the soccer team or not,” Guerra said.
The sophomore midfielder is not the only foreign-born player at Rio Grande. The RedStorm roster proudly represents eight countries, from England and Japan, to Chile and El Salvador.
“The beauty of soccer and the sport itself is that no matter where you come from, it is a universal game that everyone understands how to play no matter if you speak the language,” Morrissey said.
Top-ranked Rio Grande leads the Mid-South Conference with a 10-1 overall record and unblemished 6-0 mark in conference play.
Guerra is making an impact for the RedStorm, scoring his first goal of the 2012 season in a 3-1 win on August 26. That date happens to be his father’s birthday, who was brought to tears when learning of his son’s success via Skype.