As the Caldwell boys soccer team was taking pictures following the Cougars’ 4-1 win over Middleton in last Thursday’s 4A District III title game, coach Rhys Yeakley invited everyone to come into the frame.
Parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and cousins all gathered in front of the south goal at Middleton High, surrounding the Cougars, who were holding up the district trophy.
It was a fitting scene for the Cougars, who all season long have made the families just as an important part of the team as the players themselves. And with the number of family connections that run throughout the program, it’s not hard to do.
“Every year I find out about a new family relation,” said Yeakley, now in his sixth year as the Cougars’ head coach. “I find out someone is someone else’s cousin or things like that. It makes them a lot closer, but I think it helps the kids buy into the program a little bit more.”
The Cougars hope the family connection pays off this weekend, as Caldwell sends a large contingent of fans up to northern Idaho to cheer on the team at the 4A state tournament. Caldwell (17-0-2) opens play at 3 today against Wood River at Post Falls High School. The game is a rematch of last year’s state title game, won by the Wolverines.
If the support the Cougars get at state is anything like what they had at districts, Caldwell can expect a lot of support, even though they’re competing nearly 400 miles away from home.
“It just feels really good that fans come out, especially when it’s that far away,” said senior Nathan Tamayo. “It helps us play better when you have support on the sidelines.”
All throughout the Cougars roster is somebody who is related to someone else on the team, or somebody who used to play for Caldwell. Tamayo’s father, JR, is an assistant coach, and his cousin is goalkeeper Jevon Devonte Olvera.
Brothers Adrian and Damian Arguello are both 20-goal scorers on a team that also features their cousins, Jose Torres-Arguello and Danny Torres-Arguello.
“It brings us together, because there’s literally blood on the team,” Adrian Arguello said. “My cousin Jose, my cousin Danny, we’ve been growing up together our whole lives. It’s been fun playing together, it’s probably the best feeling ever.”
Jesus Gonzales, who scored the game-winning goal in the district championship game, is the brother of Emilio Gonzales, a 2016 first-team All-4A Southern Idaho Conference selection. Alex Cuevas’s brother, Danny Cuevas, was the conference player of the year that season and now plays at Northwest Nazarene.
“A lot of these kids have had older brothers, uncles or even parents that have gone through the program in the past,” said Yeakley. “A lot of them have younger siblings who come to our games and talk about when they’re going to get to be a part of the team, so it’s pretty cool.”
The families haven’t always been as involved, Yeakley said. When he took over in 2013, the Cougars were coming off of a down year. Caldwell had advanced to the state title game in 2011, during a season which was marred after the Cougars had to forfeit eight games for using two ineligible players.
The next year, the Cougars failed to make the state playoffs, and Yeakley took over a team far from where they were the year before. The coach said when he opened the equipment shed to see what he had, there was only a dead cat inside.
In his first game as the Cougars’ coach, only a handful of fans showed up. But every year, as the Cougars improved, he saw attendance rise. He estimates that nearly 500 fans showed up last year to watch Caldwell beat Sandpoint 1-0 in last year’s state semifinal game at Brothers Park, which is located next door to Caldwell High.
“It’s something I started noticing that as our fans got bigger, I started trying to include them more,” Yeakley said. “It’s just really taken off where they really get excited for the season and they do a lot for us as far as fundraisers and trying to organize things. They do a great job supporting our program.”
Even Yeakley’s wife, Kate, has become involved, working the concession stands and helping with fundraiser when not attending games at Payette High, where the couple’s two sons play.
As the families have become more involved, they’ve started to from one large cohesive family: The Caldwell soccer family.
“We just all feel like one big family,” said Olvera. “We’ve all been playing together for so many years. We’ve known each other, gone to the same schools for our whole lives, basically.”