For love of the game: Former West Forsyth player thrives because of his passion for soccer

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 10, 2023

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By Jay Spivey

For the Clemmons Courier

For Alex Flores, soccer is a way of life.

Flores, who graduated a year early from West Forsyth in 2022, is now flourishing as a men’s soccer player at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington.

The son of a father from El Salvador and a mother from Mexico, soccer is a big part of the culture, not only with his family but with many Hispanics.

“Since I can remember, I grew up playing soccer,” he said. “That, and I grew up just watching my dad play since a very young age. Since three years old, I was going to a park with my parents, and they would have friends, family just playing pick-up. I was just sitting on the hills, watching them play. Then it kept happening, and of course, I wanted to play and play and play, and I just continued playing since a very young age.”

As Flores, who was born here, continued to get older, his love of soccer continued.

“Growing up, I played with a group of family,” Flores said. “We had a team in the Hispanic leagues down in Winston-Salem. I just kept going, and I fell in love with it as I want to improve every day and keep going. I want to see how far soccer can take me.”

Even at the tender age of three, Flores and his family headed to Philo Middle School in Winston-Salem for these pick-up games.

“They had like a little indoor league there,” he said. “Yeah, they just set it up there for the little kids. It was indoor, I remember it. I was playing goalie. That was my first-ever position. I did not like it because I got hit in the face, and I was like, ‘Yeah, never again.'”

Even though he’s playing junior-college soccer outside, he still has fond memories of those indoor days at Philo.

“Now that I’m older, I just love indoor,” Flores said. “It’s way faster. You play more, you get the ball more, more touches, and it’s less dinking and more reaction.

“Outdoor is more like, now that I’m older, I play more competitively. So, for college and high school, I was just thinking about how I can win the game … It’s more like a team-based game where indoor is just like you literally carry your team. It’s fun.”

Soccer is like family to him.

“I think it’s like the culture,” Flores said. “It brings people together. It gives like family something to look forward to go to … you bring your whole family. You get your uncles and your aunties to come out to watch the kids play.

“I think it’s just there’s just smiles everywhere you see. Lots of family there. Lots of people you know. It’s a good place to get to know people and have a good time, not having to worry about anything. It’s like an escape.”

The release from playing soccer and being with friends and family is palpable.

“It’s a beautiful sport,” Flores said. “I think that appeals to me the most is it’s an escape. Like when I’m playing, I don’t think about anything else except that. It’s nothing in my head. (I’m) Just locked in, and nothing can distract me from what I’m doing.”

At three years old, playing soccer was innocent. As Flores has gotten older, the sport has taken on a whole different meaning to him.

“Now, as I get older, you have to work a little,” Flores said. “You have to worry about homework (or) your girlfriend. There were distractions here and there that, in reality, we shouldn’t even worry about, but they’re always there. And for me, when I’m playing, at least, nothing’s in my head.”

Flores’ mother, Cecilia, was 19 when he was born, and his father, Martires, was 20. He also has a younger brother, Irvin Salinas-Flores, who is 11.

“I think my parents did a good job of not letting me stress about anything,” Flores said. “Until I got older and got to understand things, it really wasn’t difficult. I really did enjoy being young, being a kid. It was just playing soccer every weekend, watching cartoons, eating pancakes for breakfast. So, I’m grateful for the parents I have. They’ve given me like the best life I could (basically ask for.)”

Even as good of a player as Flores turned out to be, he had to work his way up the ladder just like most other players. During his first year at West Forsyth, he played JV soccer.

“As a JV player, I played striker, and I had 30-plus goals my first season,” he said. “Of course, my goal was just to get to varsity, but I understood why it didn’t happen. There was (sic) a lot of players, a lot of talent on the varsity team. And I think the fact that I didn’t make it on the varsity team my freshman year just gave me more motivation to work harder.”

Not making it to varsity didn’t upset Flores at all.

“One thing about soccer is you just have fun with it,” he said. “If I’m going to have fun. I’ve never had a game where I don’t have fun.”

Coach Jeffrey Williams, the boys varsity coach and newly-named girls coach at West Forsyth, noticed Flores right away when he first saw him play.

“You can’t miss his speed,” Williams said. “He’s obviously one of the fastest, if not the fastest, players I’ve ever coached. I think he won the middle-school maybe 100- and 200-(meter dash)… He was very coachable in the beginning. You could tell he had been coached in the past. And he had one of the stronger right foots that I’ve ever seen, too.”

Williams concurred with Flores that the varsity team in his first year was loaded.

“We had a very good varsity team that he wouldn’t have probably been ready for his freshman year,” Williams said. “But when he moved up to varsity his sophomore year, he just thrived in that role, too.”

He thrived his sophomore and junior seasons with the Titans. In his final year with the Titans, he finished with six goals.

“I think most people know it’s hard to make varsity as a freshman,” Flores said. “It happens, of course, but I feel like it wasn’t my time. I talk to God a lot. I believe in Him, and I just like talk to Him, and He was like, ‘It was just maybe not my time.'”

In the meantime, Flores was already ahead of the game in the classroom. He had taken advanced classes in middle school, so he made a decision in high school.

“I decided to graduate early the summer going into my junior year,” Flores said.

Flores approached Williams to tell him that he planned on graduating early.

“No, not in soccer, generally,” Williams said of high-school athletes graduating early. “It’s definitely rare, but he was able to do it, and he’s thriving.”

After deciding to leave early, he had offers from Cape Fear, Barton, Pfeiffer, Carolina University, Patrick Henry Junior College, and another JUCO in Texas.

“I remember this, one day, I was just doing my own thing and sending out emails, and I sent out an email to (the former coach at Cape Fear),” Flores said. “Then, I was washing dishes in the kitchen. I remember it clear as day, like it was yesterday. And I told my mom, ‘Hey, I’m getting a call from Wilmington.’

“I picked up the phone. Keep in mind, I never pick up if it’s not (recognizable). And it was Coach Dave, and he was telling me, and he was like, ‘Hey, I’ve seen you play,’ because he was a coach at Wilmington Hammerheads here in Wilmington.”

Williams helped Flores through the recruiting process.

“Some parents are highly involved, and Alex’s were to an extent, but Alex was really one of the ones who really wanted the help and wanted the extra voice and the extra reasoning with his next move,” Williams said. “So then, his club coach was able to get him a couple of offers through some different avenues, as well.”

Flores, who is still 18, is about to start his sophomore season with the Sea Devils, but he already has his eyes set on next year. He would like to transfer across town to the University of North Carolina Wilmington to play there.

“That’s how much I love it here and want to be here,” Flores said. “I think the part, I’ve grown up a lot here. I’ve grown more as a person, more as an adult. I’ve learned a lot of how to live on my own. I think I have a lot of opportunities here.”