Samuel Reuben Wilhelm Chavez from Surigao del Sur, a standout in Philippine youth football, has received a scholarship to Judson University, in Elgin, Illinois and is now a new recruit of the Judson University Eagles’ men’s soccer team.
Chavez was a product of the San Beda University High School football program. He was part of the SBU Red Booters Juniors squad that won the NCAA championships from 2016 to 2018 and represented the province of Rizal in the Palarong Pambansa. Those experiences honed him and paved the way for his stints in the U-18 and U-19 national squads that saw action in the AFF Championships in 2018 and 2019, in Indonesia, and Vietnam, respectively.
In 2019, he was handpicked for the U-18 all-star Southeast Asian selection team that vied for the JapaFunCup. The left winger was also a player of Mendiola FC 1991’s U-19 team that reached the 2019 Youth Football League finals.
The 18-year old boy is now taking up Sports Management at Judson University, a Christian liberal arts university. Chavez is part of a celebrated athletic program as Judson’s men’s soccer team has won multiple titles in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) and National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA).
Chavez’s US scholarship is a result of the young man’s determination that began as a nine year-old footballer growing up in the fourth-class town of Lianga, Surigao del Sur. The boy would travel far and ask financial help from his aunt, Aileen Cabebe, a cardiology nurse in California, and from his coaches so he could try his luck at talent identification sessions and try-outs. In his first year at San Beda, Chavez was kept on the bench but worked hard until he became a starter after 12 months.
He channeled the same fortitude in getting into a college or a university in the US. “The task was very challenging but I did not lose hope,” said Chavez. With the help of his coaches and mentors, he meticulously put together a video of his accomplishments on the pitch, carefully studied for the required exams, and patiently went through the application processes and interviews. “I wanted to use football to get a good education and be able to better the quality of life of both myself and my family,” he said to explain his drive.
“Many college coaches in the US were interested in Samuel but Judson (University) was the most persistent (in getting him),” said Niquie Angelo, the athlete’s recruitment mentor who described Chavez as “very hard-working” and “focused.”
Jeffrey Cuaycong, Chavez’s coach at San Beda, and Philippine Football Federation (PFF) Head of Youth Development, Reiji Hirata, believe that the boy’s excellent skills and positive attitude will be his keys to success in college football and beyond.
“Bens—as we fondly call him—is a natural left footer. He can play multiple positions. He is a good finisher inside the penalty box. In fact, he made the most number of goals among his batch mates in the NCAA,” said Cuaycong.
Hirata, for his part, immediately noticed Chavez’s left-foot skill at the 2018 AFF U-19 competition and recommended the player to the JapaFunCup exchange program. “In my opinion, Samuel’s strengths are his mental strength and his ability to pass, shoot, cross and judge situations from the left. I have confidence about his play,” Hirata reiterated.
Chavez pledged to keep improving his game. He said, “I am still far from what I want to achieve but I will be working hard to reach my goals of completing my education and playing at the professional level. Eventually, I want to return to the Philippines to contribute to the growth of the sport.”
He urged young athletes like himself to be unafraid of aiming higher. “Even if you think things are impossible,” he underscored. “Do not doubt yourself. It only seems impossible until it is done.” (Gay Ace Domingo is part of the Media Team of Mendiola FC 1991. She is also afreelance writer, publicist and movie associate producer)