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Making His Mark

Who is Jesus Solorio?

He wears the soccer jersey with the number 10 on it. He goes by Chuy — the diminutive of Jesus — sports a stylish faux hawk haircut and rotates through an impressive collection of cleats, including some wildly colorful ones.

Those who don't know Solorio — and that list seems to shrink each time he steps onto the pitch — quickly learn that Chuy is bafflingly, annoyingly, amazingly fast and efficient with the ball; that he's gone like smoke in the wind. Now he's at the other end of the field, and now he's celebrating a goal.

Who is Jesus Solorio? Coaches and players know by now. The question inevitably becomes who is marking No. 10?

Who has No. 10?

Stay on No. 10!

"You hear almost every coach and every team yelling it out," North Medford head coach Dan Torrey says. "To mark No. 10, follow No. 10, follow Chuy. A referee came up to me in Bend after a game and said that as much as he was there to ref that No. 10 is worth the price of admission."

Solorio, a starter for the Black Tornado since his freshman year, is now a senior with his eyes set on postseason glory. The 18-year-old delights in putting on displays of skill, but is even happier to prove he has whatever it takes to win.

And through nine matches, North (7-2, 3-1 Southern Oregon Hybrid) has done just that.

Oftentimes, the 5-foot-7, 145-pound Solorio has been double and triple covered.

And usually, it doesn't matter.

"I think the one thing that stands out is that in four years, there hasn't been one player who could stop him," the 27-year-old Torrey says. "He will easily beat the first player, and if you don't have a second player, he's going to goal.

"I'm a little biased, but I've played at North Medford and started coaching in 2005. I've watched a lot of games (and) would say he has the best foot skills I've seen in the Valley in the last 10 years."

Solorio has played an important role, tallying a team-best 17 goals and 11 assists while functioning as a constant distraction and headache to the opposition. His ability to consume the time and energy of defenses and beleaguer offenses has been as valuable as points.

"He has the individual ability that he can take over a game at any given moment if he chooses to," South Medford head coach Dave Kaufman says.

Solorio started building his love and talent in Guadalajara, Jalisco, where he was born and grew up. Solorio began playing when he was about 4 years old. His older brother, Alejandro Torres Solorio, who was the first to move to the United States about six years ago, was once a semi-professional soccer player.

Jesus spent time in the Atlas youth academy, which has developed several players who have gone on to star with the Mexico national football team. Atlas is one of three squads that play in Guadalajara, along with Guadalajara and Estudiantes Tecos in the Primera Division de Mexico.

The club's home stadium is Estadio Jalisco, a place Solorio once played in and the grandest stage he's ever competed on. Just like he does here in the United States, Solorio played soccer constantly in Mexico. If he couldn't get into a match at the field that was about a half of a block from his home, he and his neighborhood friends would create goal lines with rocks and play in the streets.

"Mexico was great," Solorio recalls. "I loved it. I was like all about soccer."

Solorio arrived in America about two years later with his mother, Alma, and father, Felix. The move was made to be close to Alma's family, Jesus says.

Solorio began his new life as an eighth-grader at McLoughlin Middle School.

"It was hard," Solorio recalls of adapting to the environment and language. "I couldn't say any words. I was asking all the time."

Solorio says he nearly ended up going to school and playing for cross-town rival South Medford. North and South (5-1-3, 4-0 SOH) face each other at 7 tonight at Spiegelberg Stadium.

"I was practicing with South and at the last minute went to North," says Solorio. "I just liked the school better."

Says Kaufman: "If one team gets the majority of the stronger players, then the rivalry isn't as much fun. Maybe it isn't as much of a rivalry if (Solorio) isn't there. I've always taken the approach that we will do what we can with who we have."

Torrey, a 2002 North graduate, remembers his first encounter with Solorio.

"Two weeks before his ninth-grade year, he showed up with long hair and we thought he didn't look like a soccer player," says Torrey, now in his second year as head coach but then a varsity assistant. "He changed our mind in a matter of seconds and from Day 1, he's been a starter."

Oh, and Solorio was actually trying out for the team on a right foot that he had injured while playing in the local Mexican League.

Solorio was originally tabbed as a right midfielder but "was so skilled we put him at center so he could cover any part of the field," Torrey says. That change was nothing new for Solorio — he began his soccer career as a goalkeeper in Mexico and has proved effective anywhere.

Though naturally skilled, Solorio is a warrior in practices, Torrey says. The 2010 first-team SOH selection backs up his reputation with a work ethic that his coaches and teammates marvel at. Solorio has also matured as an upperclassman, containing and fueling the emotions that he once let fly at times earlier in his prep career.

"He is a delight to work with because every day he steps onto the field you get his maximum effort, no matter what drill you do," Torrey says.

Says Solorio: "We always are training hard, trying to be more together, more for the team, not for one. We're always working hard in practice."

Torrey was reminded of Solorio's commitment to winning last season against Grants Pass. North, trailing by a goal, needed a victory to clinch a share of the conference championship with the Panthers.

Without saying a word, the forward began defending scoring threat Taylor Griggs, who netted a goal early in the match.

Solorio slowed Griggs and the Black Tornado won.

"I couldn't figure out why our star soccer player was defending Taylor," Torrey says. "Sometimes you just trust the kids. That was (Solorio's) gut instinct."

Added Solorio: "You know, every game you want to give your best. That is why I always try to always give my best; not just for me but for the team. Every game I want to win."

Few have kept Solorio from scoring this year, but the Panthers held him without a goal in their first meeting last month. South won 1-0 on a goal by Kodie Artner.

"South really put a lot of pressure in the midfield," Torrey says. "That kind of frustrated our midfielders and they couldn't get the ball to Jesus. South knows if you can keep the ball from Jesus, you'll slow down the offense."

Tonight, both Torrey and Kaufman expect a chess match.

"I guess we are at a level as a team where we feel like we also have some players who can counter opposing teams' top players," Kaufman says. "From a defensive standpoint, we'll want to minimize the offensive opportunities that star players create."

There seems to be no slowing Solorio's dedication to the sport though. He also plays club, co-ed and Mexican League soccer throughout the year.

Torrey has had a few opportunities to stop Solorio in the city league they both participate in. Admittedly, he hasn't been able to.

"He blew by me a couple times," Torrey says with a laugh.

Solorio's Rogue Valley Soccer Club Fuego squad won the Oregon State Cup and advanced to regional competition in May. That group also won the Rogue Valley Cup U19 championship this summer.

Off the field, Solorio is outgoing, funny and smart. The team captain can be self-conscious when he speaks English around strangers, focused on finding the right words. He has improved drastically and "is a lot better than he let's on," Torrey says.

And with his actions alone, Solorio's gained respect.

"Everyone looks up to him because he's humble," Torrey says. "He doesn't think he's great."

Solorio plays for a North program that has experienced lows (4-10-1 in 2008, 3-10-1 in 2009) and highs, like the team's 7-5-2 finish last season.

Solorio injured his left quadriceps early last fall and then re-aggravated it in the squad's final regular-season match, the victory over the Cavemen. The setback put him on crutches and prevented him from playing in the Black Tornado's Class 6A first-round state playoff game against Gresham.

North Medford twice came within an eyelash of scoring the winning goal in overtime before succumbing in the shootout, 5-3 in penalty kicks.

"Oh man, it was horrible," Solorio recalls. "I was almost crying because I wanted to play but I couldn't."

In the matches he did get in, Solorio ignored the pain.

"My doctor told me to stop playing, but I couldn't stop playing because it's the game I love," he says.

"I think this being his senior year, he knows this is it," Torrey says.

Torrey hopes Solorio will also get a chance to play collegiately.

"A lot of recruiting in soccer is based on how much money you put into it," Torrey says. "Kids have websites, and Chuy doesn't have those things. Coaches come talk to him at regional tournaments and local colleges here in Oregon have heard stories about him. It's up to me and Chuy now. We are gonna try to get him to go play somewhere."

Should that happen, others will quickly learn exactly who Jesus Solorio is.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com

North Medford's Jesus Solorio practices Monday at Hoffbuhr Field in Medford. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore