By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Taking their defensive teamwork half way across the country, Santa Rosa Junior College soccer standouts Andy Walker and Manuel Leon Barrera will play for Lyon College next season.
Anchors for a Bear Cubs unit that made a deep run in the California Community College Athletic Association playoffs, the former All-Empire prep players accepted scholarships from the NAIA school in Batesville, Ark.
“It’s a great deal,” said Walker, out of Ukiah High.
The pair picked Lyon over several California schools after visiting the small college in March. Both expect to start for the Scots after gaining all-conference honors with Santa Rosa Junior College.
“I like the campus. It’s a pretty good team and the league is good,” said Leon Barrera, from Santa Rosa High. “It’s a good opportunity.”
Lyon, playing in the TranSouth Athletic Conference, is coming off its best season in school history.
About one third of Lyon’s players are from overseas.
“It’s more technical soccer. They bring that part of the game,” Walker said.
The former Bear Cubs defenders are plenty skilled. Walker plays tall, using headers to clear and pass balls, but he is also a strong back comfortable as the last line of defense. Leon Barrera plays like a midfielder, pushing balls up field and serving passes onto teammates’ feet when not clearing balls out of danger.
“Manny and I are just so good together. We know what each other are going to do all the time,” Walker said.
Those skills were apparent in a showcase for California junior college players at College of the Canyons, where Lyon coaches spotted Walker and Leon Barrera. The pair helped lead a team of the Big8 Conference’s best in two wins at the scouting event.
“You get a little nervous with all the coaches watching. You just work your hardest,” Leon Barrera said.
While both are aiming for a starting spot, they recognize the level of play will demand picking up their games.
“The players down there are pretty good,” Leon Barrera said.
After sitting out a year with the UC Davis team, playing time is something Walker appreciates. Rather than wait his turn at Davis, Walker transferred to Santa Rosa.
“I wasn’t interested in seeing the bench. It definitely worked out,” Walker said. “The pressure is always on. It’s definitely going to be hard work. But I’m happy, I’m excited.”
On the academic side, Leon Barrera will major in business administration, hoping to become the first in his family with a college degree.
Biochemistry is Walker’s field of study.
For more coverage of Empire high school sports, please visit pdpreps.com. You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.