By Bob Narang

Prep Sports Report –

His name is Yordi Hernandez.

The Solorio (Chicago) defender began playing soccer when he was five years old, thanks to his grandfather in Mexico who introduced him to the sport while his father was looking for opportunities to provide a better life for their family in the U.S.

Hernandez is just one of the top student athletes to watch in the 19th Annual Showdown Series presented by PepsiCo at Olympic Park in Schaumburg. His squad opens the massive event against Plainfield Central, and then will face either Eisenhower or Saint Viator in the second round.

“What people need to realize is that Yordi is a kid who doesn’t get to experience the normal full teenage life,” said Solorio coach Adrian Calleros, who previously coached at Mount Carmel (2002-2009) before moving to the Gage Park-based Chicago Public School in 2010. “He has to help support his family.”

Over time, soccer became a place of refuge for Hernandez, where he could play with unbridled joy and have a connection with his teammates and community. The sport itself also gives the undocumented immigrant a respite from a busy schedule of classes and construction work.

While many high school student athletes spend the summer crisscrossing the country for personal travel, playing club sports, lounging at a pool or relaxing at home, Hernandez doesn’t have that luxury.

“This summer, I worked six days a week and at least 10 hours a day in construction,” said Hernandez, whose specialty is scaffolding. “It was a really heavy job that requires a lot of strength.

“Not only is it a heavy job, but it’s also dangerous since you have high up all the time. When I first started three years ago, I would do light work since I was still too young to be able to lift everything.

“Sometimes I would get super tired from work with a college class waiting for me. I had one college class over the summer, so it was even harder to manage my time. I knew I had to pull through since my options are limited because I’m undocumented.”

The 5-6 senior, who is a member of the National Honors Society with a grade-point average above 5.0, is involved in the STEM early college pathway program. That allows Hernandez to graduate high school with an Associate Degree, too.

“I learned how much my dad (Aaron) sacrificed for me, so I could have food on the table and a place to live comfortably,” Hernandez said. “Being able to see how hard my dad works made me respect him even more.

“Not only does he work more than 10 hours a day, but my dad also would come home and take care of me. Since I got here to U.S., my dad has taken care of me by himself.

“I realize I have to do something to repay him for all the years he worked hard for me to be successful in life. Going to college would definitely help me be successful, so I could repay him for all the days he suffered in the hot sun for me. My dream is for him to travel the world like he always wished.”

Hernandez dreams of attending college to seek a better life and help his family, but he also understands the road to college is difficult due to his undocumented status.

“I’ve always taken education very seriously,” Hernandez said. “But I’m limited with college since I’m undocumented.

“I don’t qualify for many scholarships that are available to students who have papers. Not having the funds is the biggest challenge of trying to play in college. Getting accepted into a university is one thing, but having the funds for it is completely different.”

Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep recruiting and sports for the past 26 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.