[USA 23] On a Wednesday in May, the news arrived that Jose Francisco Torres of the East Texas town of Longview had made the U.S. World Cup team. On Thursday, when Margaret Wright arrived to teach at Foster Henry Middle School, half her pupils announced they were related to Jose.
"This is so huge here," said Wright with a chuckle. "Jose's going to find out he has relatives he never knew about."
Longview, a city of 77,000, lies 118 miles east of Dallas and 50 miles west of the Louisiana border. It has of late been celebrating athletes who have gone on to fame, including Torres’ classmate at Longview High School, Texas Rangers’ first baseman Chris Davis. Also out of Longview, offensive tackle Trent Williams was a 2010 first round draft pick by the Washington Redskins, where he joins Lobo alum wide receiver Malcom Kelly.
Nearly half those on Wikipedia's list of Longview’s “Notable People” – which includes actor Matthew McConaughey and union activist Karen Silkwood -- are football and baseball players.
Torres became the first soccer player and first Hispanic on the list.
"Jose is a celebrity in the Hispanic community here," says James Wright, head coach of Longview High’s soccer team, whose assistant is his wife, Magaret. "Being named to the World Cup team was a big relief to the Hispanic community. They really believed he deserved it but were worried till the last minute if he’d make it."
Torres was born in Longview in 1987 to Francisco “Pancho” Torres, an immigrant from Tampico, Mexico, and Lisa (née Mezzell).
Pancho had a chance to pursue a pro career in Mexico, but instead opted to move north of the border, where he met Lisa and introduced her to soccer.
"When we were dating," she says, "he told me he was taking me to futbol game. When we got there I said, 'Football in Spanish is different than our football!"'
Lisa liked the game. She started playing and coached Jose’s longtime youth team, Bad to da Bone. Jose later played for the Elite. By his sophomore season at Longview High, he smashed school scoring and assist records for the Lobos.
The Wrights say a crucial part of Torres’ development was playing in the Longview adult league known to non-Hispanics as "The Mexican League."
"That’s really where he developed his skills," says Margaret. "You’ve got teenagers playing with and against 35- and 40-year-olds. He really matured playing in that league."
Torres left high school before his junior season to join Mexican first division club Pachuca, where he made his first-team debut one month before his 19th birthday in 2006 and broke into the starting lineup in 2008.
It was the realization of a dream. Lisa remembers once when Jose was very young, watching Mexican soccer on TV, he pointed to the screen and said, "One day I'll play there."
"Jose was always behind the ball," she says. "He slept with his ball. He would watch Mexican soccer on television with his dad, and when he saw something he wanted to learn, he'd go in the backyard and work on it until he could do it. We had mini-goals in the yard. He also went to his father and his uncles' games."
Jose Torres was courted by the Mexican Olympic team, but opted to play for his native country, and debuted for Coach Bob Bradley’s team in 2008.
In Longview, James Wright says everyone knew Jose could go far. Wright played on the “Mexican League” team with Jose, Pancho and Jose’s uncle on the Zacatecas.
"You couldn't get the ball away from Jose,” says Wright. “He was truly amazing. I have one picture of him with me when we played in a tournament in Tyler. Now that all this is happening, you wonder, 'Why didn’t we take more pictures?'"