The dome is buzzing with excitement; it is Sept. 15, and students file in to partake in South’s annual fall sports assembly, among the crowd is senior Franco Fernandez-Enjo. He strides towards the bleachers where the varsity football team fills the front row. They cheer and clap; whoops and hollers fill the air as they see him sporting his football jersey just like them, number seven bolded on the front.
Meanwhile, seated a few rows back, the varsity soccer team boos lightheartedly, big grins plastered across their faces. Seconds later, Fernandez-Enjo reaches for the bottom hem of his football jersey, and lifts it up to show the deep blue of his soccer jersey, number 17 replacing seven. The soccer team erupts in a fit of excitement, their cheers drowning out those of the football team.
This duality of football and soccer is Franco Fernandez-Enjo’s life during his fall season, as he plays both sports at the varisty level. Carrying pads and shin guards down to the field after school, forgoing 12 years of soccer muscle memory to kick a field goal on a Friday night, and wearing both jerseys to the sports assembly. Fernandez-Enjo performs the most thorough balancing act. He was not always a dual varsity athlete, as Fernandez-Enjo played soccer growing up and only recently started playing football
“[I’ve played soccer from] Kindergarten until now,” Fernandez-Enjo said. “I played high school soccer freshman year to sophomore year, and then junior year I took the year off to play football, but [I am playing soccer] again also. I love the game and I started playing because my parents are from Argentina and they got me into it.”
Fernandez-Enjo’s love for soccer was something fueled by his parents as a kid, he explained, but despite their ties to soccer, he said they were supportive in his switch to football as well.
“When I told my parents that I didn’t know if I wanted to play jv [soccer], they said [I could] do whatever [I] want,” Fernandez-Enjo said. “And then when I told my parents I was going to play football, my dad thought it was cool; his dad had moved to the [United States] because he liked American culture and was into cowboys, the Wild West, and all that classic American stuff. [My grandpa] listened to country music and was a football fan, he had season tickets to Bowling Green [State] games and nobody else in the family had that interest. For me to play football was special because my grandpa passed away and nobody else in my family had interest in football but me [and I’m] living that on.”
This switch was initially sparked by a fork in the road junior year when Fernandez-Enjo made the jv soccer team with his sights set on varsity. That, combined with thoughts of soccer players kicking for the football team, Fernandez-Enjo was convinced, maybe he should try out for football. He discussed his decision to switch sports with Reggie Lara, boys varsity soccer coach. And Lara explained that the switch was at first unexpected, but a year later he is grateful for Fernandez-Enjo trying something new, and said that playing football also benefited his soccer game.
“Junior year we had to make tough decisions,” Lara said. “We wanted to [keep] as many seniors as we could on varsity and that meant a lot of juniors had to get backlogged onto jv. When Franco didn’t make varsity, he decided to try out football.
In retrospect, it was a good thing because he got to focus on getting stronger, faster, and more explosive. Now, I see as a senior he’s been a key contributor on our team because he’s that much better as a total athlete.”
Lara said that at the start of soccer season, Fernandez-Enjo contributed as a substitute defense player. But after performing well in the last game of the Titan Invite against Mundelein, it was clear they wanted him on the field more often.
“Something happened where the normal starters were not able to play in a game and he ended up starting against Mundelein and did really really well, to the point where we were thinking to ourselves, maybe he wasn’t just a center defender, maybe he could also play somewhere else,” Lara said. “[I] started to adjust things so that we could put him on the field more and in different positions.”
As Fernandez-Enjo returned to soccer, and made his adjustment to beginning football, both he and his coaches recognize the task he’s taken on, agreeing that playing two varsity sports in the same season is no easy feat, and has required an immense amount of discipline.
“When both [sports] have practice, I go outside with my pads and soccer stuff and I go to football for special teams, which is at the start of practice, I do the kickoffs and head over to soccer,” Fernandez-Enjo said. “I go to soccer [until it ends] around 5:30 p.m. and then I go back to football until that ends, which is 6 p.m. ”
David Schoenwetter, varsity football coach, speaks highly of Fernandez-Enjo and has placed a great amount of trust in the athlete. Trust that he says has been developed through the dedication Fernandez-Enjo displays while managing both sports and being reliable.
“I really trust him,” Schoenwetter said. “He came to all of our off-season workouts and he understood the standard the coaches expect and he lived up to it. I know he’s always going to do what he needs to do for our team to be successful and for himself to be successful.”
Similarly, Lara trusts Fernandez-Enjo as well and attributes this ability to the athlete’s display of grit.
“Franco’s the perfect example of someone who is working really hard to juggle all of his schedules and two teams and to an extent it’s taken a toll on his time and maybe even his stress, but he’s embraced it, he’s done a heck of a job,” Lara said. “Schoenwetter and I are really proud of him.”
Paying two demanding sports within the same season is not easy, Fernandez-Enjo admits, and at the end of the day, it is his teammates that keep him going.
“My biggest motivation is my teammates,” Fernandez-Enjo said. “My motivation is not wanting to let my teammates down. I have one job and I just got to do it right 95 percent of the time. Their fate and their success shouldn’t come down to whether I’m ready for the moment or not, so I practice. My job is to make sure they don’t have to worry about whether I make it or miss it. That’s my motivation.”