Jonathan Larsen played for many soccer coaches before his freshman year at Richland High School.
But none of them prepared Larsen for his first season under Bombers’ coach Octavio DoValle.
Ever since DoValle started up the Richland program in 1988, the venerable coach has maintained specific expectations for each member of his team. Those demands, however, weighed heavily on a freshman competing for a starting job against players two and three years older.
“Octavio expects all his players to play like seniors. One day it just seemed like coach was out to get me. I was convinced that coach hated me,” said Larsen, now a senior captain and four-year starter.
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But after seeking some advice from his parents and his brother Adam, who played for DoValle in 2004, Larsen was convinced otherwise.
“What we figured out is Octavio gets on you because of the potential he sees in you. There was a lot of pressure on Jonathan to learn how to play the way Octavio wanted. It wasn’t because he didn’t like him,” said Jonathan’s father, Mark Larsen. “Once we got to know Octavio, we saw how nice he was and how he really liked the kids.”
It didn’t take long before the freshman gained DoValle’s full confidence and the respect of his teammates in winning a starting spot at midfield. As a sophomore, Larsen was a key factor in the Bombers’ run to a CBBN 4A league and district championship, earning second-team All-CBBN 4A honors.
DoValle named Larsen a team captain before his junior year, something the coach felt he’d earned through his hard work and dedication to the team concept at Richland.
“From Day 1, it was just the quality of the individual and his overall accountability. It’s not beyond his stature to say, ‘Hey, lets take care of this.’ To me, that’s leadership,” DoValle said. “If you have strong captains and leadership, the best coaching is going to be done on the field.”
Larsen’s junior season was cut short after he broke the fifth metatarsal in his foot, shelving him for the entire second half of 2012. That’s when he took leadership to a whole different level.
“I was really upset I had to miss half the season. But instead of pouting, I decided I would help the underclassmen learn their roles, listen to what the coach had to say and follow him around,” Larsen said. “It helped a lot. I got a clearer understanding of what (DoValle) is looking for. Playing center mid, you can’t see the whole field, but being on the sideline you can see everything. It’s easy to tell if something is out of place.”
That careful attention to detail helped him dole out advice to the developing players in the program, and that has paid off handsomely this season.
“He pushed me to play really hard, and he set an example for me to play hard every game,” junior forward Ali Kamara said. “Everything he does, he does to help the team out.”
Larsen said there is a strong bond running through the team and an underlying trust between him, fellow midfielder Austin Herrick and Kamara.
“With me and Ali up top, we have a lot of motion going on to keep defenders distracted,” Herrick said. “When (Larsen) gets the ball, me and Ali are both going and he knows where to hit us.”
Larsen will play next season at BYU University in Hawaii, an opportunity he sees as exciting and a bit scary, too.
“I think it’s going to be really cool,” he said of the picturesque environment. “It’s going to be kind of challenging maybe because I’ll be away from home.”
His dad, a self-taught soccer aficionado who has coached his son since he was seven years old, is confident things will work out despite a new home, new coach, new program and a new position.
“It’ll be interesting. His new coach (Mark Davis) sees him as a forward. I don’t have any doubt Jonathan can play that position,” Mark said. “I’ve seen him play with a lot of kids. There’s certain things other guys do better, but he has a mind for the game.”
A mind that will certainly matter in Richland’s pursuit of another league title.