From Zebra to Beaver: Francisco Villanueva
By: Aaron Jackson for The News Messenger
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Former Lincoln High School Zebras’ athlete Francisco Villanueva is now an American River College Beaver and has gone from being a sensational player on the soccer team at Lincoln to a starter in Sacramento.

In Villanueva’s two years on the Zebras’ varsity, he scored 21 goals and had 18 assists in 31 games played. As a senior, he had 17 goals in 18 games, which was good enough to rank him 47th in California. He also had 44 points total, which put him 40th in the state.

Francisco helped lead the Fighting Zebras to a Pioneer Valley League title and into the second round of playoffs his senior season. In his sophomore year at American River, Villanueva already has three assists in his 12 games. American River is currently 2-4-7 on the season.

“When I left high school I didn’t expect to continue playing. I tried out last year and didn’t even make the team,” Villanueva said. “I decided to give it another shot this year and I have earned my spot as a starter. This is much different than high school but it has been great so far.”

At Lincoln, Villanueva played soccer his freshman and sophomore years, as well as two years of varsity. He said he gained a ton of confidence playing for the Zebras, but played primarily on defense. With the Beavers he has been involved more with the offense.

“I’ve always been used to playing more defense, but at American River I am more up top attacking,” said Villanueva. “My mentality hasn’t changed all that much, but my style of play has.”

Many athletes and people in general find college more difficult than high school and feel the work is much harder, but not the Lincoln alumnus.  He told me he finds college a bit easier than high school.

Villanueva said he plans to transfer from ARC to the University of California San Francisco next year, or some other school in the Bay Area. He has learned to better balance his time between schoolwork and athletics.

“I’m at school from 7 in the morning until 5 in the evening, but I have a three-hour gap between classes and practice to get homework done,” said Villanueva. “If for some reason I don’t get my work done during that time, I still have the night when I get home to finish everything up.”

After taking off a year from soccer following his graduation, Francisco said he was still playing at the same level he played at as a Zebra. He said he believes gaining knowledge and experience in a sport requires playing it and that is what he has rediscovered.

“It’s a lot different than high school. In high school you grow up with your teammates from a freshman to a senior and at a community college you only have two years together,” Villanueva said, concerning team chemistry. “People come from all different areas so, of course, in the beginning it’s going to be a bit sloppy, but eventually you find out how everyone plays and it begins to click.”

Francisco has three assists this season, but said he would like to start scoring goals and play a full 90 minutes each game.

Villanueva also had some advice for those high school athletes wanting to continue playing in college.

“Be prepared and make sure you are motivated,” he said. “College coaches aren’t there to hold your hand. You’re either there or you’re not. You are on your own and have to be the best player and person you can be.”

Francisco is working hard at American River, but having a great time. If he continues to improve his game and score a few goals his future is bright. Let’s hope he keeps up the wonderful work – Go Beavers!