Ezequiel Vargas had no friends.

Couldn’t speak or understand a word of English.

And had no idea what a football was.

The Wilder senior wanted to go back home to Mexico. But his parents convinced him otherwise. It’s a good thing too because Vargas now has and understands all of those things exceptionally well. He was the valedictorian of his class, accrued 20 college credits through Northwest Nazarene University, racked up more than 40 hours of community service at his local fire station, was the 1A Division I Western Idaho Conference Offensive Player of the Year in football and a 1A WIC All-League first-team selection in basketball and baseball.

For these accomplishments, Vargas is the 2017-18 Idaho Press’ Sports Stars Boys Student Athlete of the Year.

“I felt like I had nothing,” Vargas said. “But I just decided that I was going to make the most out of a difficult situation. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but I’m really glad that all my hard work and dedication over the last six years has paid off in ways I couldn’t possibly even have imagined.”

Vargas moved to Wilder from Santiago, Mexico in the sixth grade when his father finally saved up enough money to bring over him and the rest of his family after 20 years of working in the agriculture fields. He was told he would see snow.

But Vargas arrived without an understanding of the English language. It made life difficult to say the least. He couldn’t communicate with potential friends or understand his teachers at school.

Vargas had to be put into a special class all by himself.

And he didn’t get to see snow for about seven months.

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However, following a conversation with his parents, Vargas came out of it with a brand new perspective. He routinely was up until midnight doing homework. Vargas then spent the next three summers on a laptop looking up how to translate Spanish words and doing Rosetta Stone to teach himself English.

Vargas also started playing sports like football and basketball in the eighth grade. It all resulted in him being able to speak, read and write English. It also led Vargas to becoming proficient in football, a sport he barely comprehended less than three years earlier, by the time his freshman year rolled around.

“I don’t even think I heard the kid speak for the first three years I knew him and then all of the sudden he was the man,” said Wilder athletic director and football coach Kyle DalSoglio. “He just had that determination and that never give up attitude. I mean having that type of language barrier coming in, you got to be determined as heck to close that gap and be successful.

“He’s probably the best kid all around I’ve ever work with. If I could have another kid, I would try and build a clone of him with his academics, athletic ability and effort. When you need an example of how to approach every day in the classroom, out of the classroom, on the field and anywhere, he’s the guy.”

It all culminated into a memorable high school career both in and outside of the classroom. Vargas was the valedictorian of his class with a grade point average of 3.6. When he graduated he had nearly a quarter of the credits for his Associate’s degree completed through Northwest Nazarene. Outside of the classroom, he volunteered at the Wilder Rural Fire Department and left his mark on the Wildcats’ athletic programs.Vargas helped Wilder football make back-to-back state tournament appearance by being a 1A Division I WIC first-team selection his junior year and the league’s offensive player of the year this past season. He also assisted the basketball team in ending a six-year state tournament drought during his junior year.

But his talents weren’t just limited to Wilder. Vargas simultaneously play club soccer for the Arsenal FC Knights team based of Nampa. He got a scholarship to play soccer at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Oregon.

That will make Vargas the first in his family ever to attend college.

So the 18-year-old suddenly has everything.

“It’s pretty crazy if you think about it,” Vargas said. “I want to set an example for my little sister and continue to make my parents proud. They have sacrificed so much just for me to get these opportunities. They’ve been pushed me to always do well and have been my biggest supporters. So it’s an honor to carry on the family name like this and I want to keep opening doors and see how far it takes me.”

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

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