It was about cultivating options after high school.
Last fall, 2013 Great Bend graduate Mario Espino was a placekicker for the football team, as well as a starting center midfielder for the soccer team.
Espino has found a place on the Barton Community College men’s soccer team.
“That was one of the plans I was looking at,” Espino said. “When I knew I was going to play, it gave me a further goal, to keep practicing.”
Espino said he knew how lucky he was to be playing at the next level.
“I have a next year,” Espino said. “Several people don’t have a next year after high school, but I have one. I’ve been running and playing a lot to keep myself ready.”
Espino has been playing in the local “Sunday League,” which consists of six local teams playing at Cavanaugh Fields.
“I haven’t quit playing,” Espino said. “We have some older people, as well as a high school team. We’re not undefeated, the high school team, so you know it’s pretty competitive.”
Espino will need to keep his skills honed if he plans to play for the powerhouse Cougars, who finished with a 16-3-1 mark after getting bumped from the postseason by Western Texas in the National Junior College Athletic Association Plains District Championship.
Barton finshed No. 7 in the NJCAA rankings. It was 10-0 in Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference action.
That run came under Oliver Twelvetrees, who took the head coaching job at Brevard Community College in Melbourne, Fla., after last season.
The Cougars are under new management with head coach Kevin Kewley.
Espino said he’s already met Kewley, who was a professional player before he started his coaching career.
“He seems like a very knowledgeable guy,” Espino said. “He has a lot of experience. I’m looking forward to playing for him.
“He’s someone you want to try to impress. He’s been around a lot of professional talent, so if he thinks you’re good, then you could be pro good.”
What of his other option?
Espino said he didn’t draw the same interest from colleges for his football experience.
“It was another option,” Espino said. “I wasn’t contacted by many schools. We didn’t have the connections, and once I started trying out at colleges for soccer, that’s what I wanted to do.”
In his junior year in football, Espino averaged 44.6 yards on 36 kickoffs. He made 25 of 26 extra-point attempts, but he missed all three field-goal attempts.
For soccer, Espino was selected to the All-Western Athletic Conference first team his senior campaign.
“I play center midfielder, primarily attacking or tucked in behind the attacking midfielder as a defensive center,” Espino said. “I really don’t do well in any other positions. Once you get used to being in the middle of things, it’s hard to get used to anything else.”