Lasting impression

Atholton senior Johnathan Beltran, an All-County soccer player, has a love of the game that dates to his childhood in Colombia

Soccer

September 27, 2006|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,SUN REPORTER

Spending the first seven years of his life in his homeland of Colombia, Atholton High School senior Johnathan Beltran had plenty of influences to help with his soccer education.

There were the times when he would tag along with his older cousin, hoping to get an opportunity to play with the bigger kids. When the chances came, he quickly learned how important it was to get rid of the ball or else get run over.

At his home in the capital city of Bogota, four television stations regularly showed soccer - three in Spanish, another in English - and a night rarely went by when a game from some part of the world was not on in the family living room. He watched closely, learned all the players by name and then imitated the moves of his favorites.

But the biggest and most lasting impression has come from his father, John, who briefly played professionally on a reserve team in Colombia. Any available time the two shared was spent playing soccer, as father taught son how to shoot, pass and dribble - all of which came quickly to the younger Beltran.

These words from his father also stuck: "He told me to have confidence, always be sure of myself and everything would work out well. He says that he has confidence in me and that I'm a good player. It means a lot - he's my No. 1 supporter," he said.

That confidence has taken Beltran a long way. With a 3.86 grade point average, he is a team captain, the team's most potent scorer and also its most gifted passer. Playing in the midfield and at forward, he scored 18 goals and had 15 assists in his first three seasons - earning first-team All-County honors last fall after a nine-goal, nine-assist season.

Also a track standout, Beltran could easily think of his senior year as icing on the cake, considering that he helped the soccer team win a state title during his sophomore year, scoring the game-winning goal in a 1-0 win over Glenelg in the regional final. He went on to capture an individual indoor state track title when he ran the 800 meters in 2 minutes, 4.05 seconds that same school year and then was instrumental in helping the indoor track team to a boys state title last season.

"I'm grateful that I've had the opportunity to do all that. It's amazing," said Beltran, who speaks English, Spanish and French and plans to study international business in college.

But he isn't content.

"I just want to do everything I can to make it [this soccer season] one of the best years we've had. The last couple years, we've been really good, so we have to live up to that. I'm going to do everything I can in my power to lead the team," Beltran said.

The Raiders are strong and experienced through the middle of the field this fall, entering the week with a 3-1 mark. Last week, Beltran - who brings speed and athleticism, flash and substance - scored both goals in 1-0 wins over county foes Glenelg and Marriotts Ridge.

Atholton coach Roch DeFrances saw enough skills from Beltran to keep him on varsity as a freshman, giving him valuable experience on a limited basis. As a sophomore, Beltran worked his way into the starting lineup as an outside midfielder, closing the state title season strong with most of his five goals and three assists coming down the stretch run.

The poise that Beltran shows when he is close to the goal - "He just buries stuff," DeFrances said - is indeed impressive, but his work in open space is what stands out.

"You'll see some kids who are fast when they're making a run to open space and then they get the ball and do what they do. His speed comes with the ball on his foot, which is really kind of rare and amazing," DeFrances said.

What Beltran has brought most from Colombia since he and his family moved to Howard County 10 years ago is a strong love and passion for soccer.

His father recalls an early reminder of just that when the younger Beltran once again talked himself into a game with the older crowd back home.

"The good thing about it was he was laughing all day long when he was playing," John Beltran said. "He was passing the ball and laughing, shooting the ball and laughing. Then he said: `Goal, goal, goal! Daddy, I scored. Look.' I said, `Yeah, buddy, you're good.' That was very emotional for me. I was so happy to see him so happy playing." glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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