BOYS SOCCER: Lupe Barajas, Ridgevue

Lupe Barajas called dibs on the No. 12 in front of the entire team.

And not a single one argued because they all knew exactly what it meant to him. While everyone else saw either an orange or white number printed across the front and back of his jersey, the Ridgevue boys soccer player had a much different view — a family legacy.

The number has been worn by his father, brother and sister before he himself took on the mantle. And the senior center midfielder represented it well this season.

The 17-year-old scored 20 goals with nine assists, helped Ridgevue win the first team district championship in school history, was the 4A Southern Idaho Conference Player of the Year and was selected by the Idaho High School Soccer Coaches Association as the 4A Player of the Year.

For his accomplishments, Barajas is the 2017-18 Idaho Press-Tribune’s Sports Stars Boys Soccer Athlete of the Year.

“I surprised myself with my own performance,” Barajas said. “I couldn’t really believe it myself because throughout my whole high school career I didn’t get first-team, second-team or even honorable mention.

“So for this year to be my year and do my family’s number justice is just something crazy.”

Barajas’ father, Inocencio started the ritual while playing in a local competitive soccer league, Azteca. The No. 12 then moved down to Barajas’ older brother, Cristian, who first wore it in club soccer and as a member of the Vallivue boys soccer team.

It was then handed down to his older sister Maritza who also played at Vallivue before finally making its way to Barajas. He began wearing the number with the Boise Nationals club soccer team at 8.

The number has been on him ever since.

But it was only this year where other numbers began sticking out.

There were only a handful of games this season where Barajas didn’t register a goal. He had multiple-goal games against Vallivue, Mountain Home and Emmett twice during the regular season.

Barajas tallied four times as many goals as he did last season. His 20 goals were not only more than in his three previous seasons combined, but ranked second in all of the 4A and 5A Southern Idaho Conferences.

“To see him take that next step was great honestly,” senior center back Isaiah Luna said. “He worked hard for it by just playing the game he loves. He practiced how he wanted to play. I feel it was the goals we set as a team that made him come out and ball out. He was a key player for us.”

With No. 12 leading the way, Ridgevue recorded the best season in program history.

The Warhawks’ 19 wins were eight more than they had last year and the most of any boys soccer program in the state.

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Following a 3-2 loss to eventual 5A state champion, Borah in the fourth game of the season, Ridgevue put together a 13-game winning streak.

Included in those wins was a 4-0 shutout of Caldwell in the 4A District III Championship game. It was the first district team championship in the school’s history.

“He played with all his heart to put the team where it needed to be,” Ridgevue boys soccer coach Oscar Ramirez said. “Lupe always gave us the best shot to win.

“He made a big difference in the center of the field because you don’t know if he’s going to pass the ball or kick the ball. As a defender that’s trouble for you because he’s a good ball handler and a great passer. I was very lucky to coach him this year.”

But two days before the start of the 4A State Boys Soccer Tournament on Oct. 19 at Brothers Park in Caldwell, Barajas pulled his groin.

The unexpected injury limited his play and effectiveness at state. He had to sit out the second half of Ridgevue’s 3-1 win against Idaho Falls in the opening round.

However, while the team made it through the first round without its leading scorer, it didn’t survive the next.

Although he played and scored in the semifinal round versus Wood River, it wasn’t enough. Barajas and the Warhawks’ state title hopes were dashed in a 2-1 defeat to the Wolverines.

“I felt directly responsible because I really couldn’t give 100 percent and everyone else on the team was,” Barajas said. “I couldn’t help but think out of all the days this could have happened, why did I have to get hurt then?

“A lot of people maybe wouldn’t have played, but it was my senior year and I didn’t want to miss these last few games. That’s just who I am and I take comfort in the fact that I still left it all out there on the field for my team.”

But Barajas still went out a winner. He proudly wore the No. 12 for Ridgevue (19-2) for the final time in a 5-2 rout over Sandpoint in the third-place game.

The state trophy was his second in as many years. The year before, Barajas helped the Warhawks to a runner-up finish.

Barajas will continue his soccer career at Walla Walla Community College in Washington. After contemplating for weeks whether or not he was going to play soccer competitively again, he signed his letter of intent on Nov. 17.

He will be the first one in his family to play soccer in college and you can probably guess what number he wants to wear.

“If it’s possible to wear the No. 12 in college I will do it in a heartbeat,” Barajas said. “I think that will probably be the first question I ask when I get there.

“It means a lot to me because I know I am making my family proud because they always wanted me to go to college and now I can also play soccer in college which is amazing. It means everything to me to carry on the legacy because I am the last one in my family to play soccer and I want to see how far I can make it.”

Brandon Walton covers Ada County and College of Idaho sports for the Idaho Press.

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