Nathan Hernandez grew up playing soccer.
The Coppell senior and soon-to-be SMU student has been around the sport since he was 5 years old, which was the beginning of a career that saw him add to the proud Coppell soccer program and etch his name into the tradition of the school forever.
“I backed up to Andy Brown Park, so I literally grew up playing like backyard pretty much,” Hernandez said. “I grew up playing. I played in the rec leagues until like I think 11 or 12, and then I moved over to select soccer.”
When Hernandez walked into the Coppell program as a high school freshman, the expectations for the Cowboys were high.
Coppell was ranked among the top teams in the country and coming off a 2016 state title – its second state title in that decade (the other came in 2012) and its third time hoisting up the state trophy since 2004.
During his four years, Hernandez worked his way up the ranks and developed into a leader that helped the program maintain its proud tradition on the pitch. He went from JV to later serving as a varsity captain as a senior this year.
“Being a part of it, first off, the relationships you build with those people are my teammates,” Hernandez said. “Going through all these struggles with my teammates, having different experiences with them, with experiencing rock bottom with them, coming out of it and then experiencing like wins and just all of the stuff together – it makes you have a better connection with all of these people that you played with and step on the field with.”
And his senior year is when his leadership and ability played a key role in transforming what appeared to be a lost season early on to becoming one of the most formidable foes in Texas.
The Cowboys were well out of the playoff picture early on. Starting off at 1-4-2 through the first half of the district gauntlet, it appeared that their string of 22 straight playoff appearances was going to end at that.
But then Hernandez and Coppell came around in a hurry. After moving Hernandez around positionally, Coppell found the right spot for him in the back and never looked back.
It won six straight games to conclude the year, jumping into a tie for second place for District 6-6A while looking like a team that nobody wanted to face if a postseason were to be played before it was canceled due to the ongoing health crisis.
“We were pretty close to completely collapsing, but honestly you could say we did collapse, and I think that’s something that pretty much was like the biggest catalyst of change was the fact that we had to get so low. That’s when we really realized like, ‘Wow, this is it. This is my last season of high school soccer. We don’t want it to end like this.’ That ignited it for us.”
Hernandez said Coppell felt the pressures weighing down, especially at a place where playoffs and district titles are an expectation.
Then it went on to that massive winning streak, which included beating the then-No. 4 team in the TopDrawerSoccer.com national polls in Flower Mound Marcus, which was followed one week later by defeating defending 6A state champion Flower Mound.
“We kind of took that out of our heads and we just went in and once we got our first win from there it just got so much easier to win,” Hernandez said. “Each game, we took our confidence from the last and used that to win us more and more games. We reached the peak, and that’s beating Marcus.”
State was on the minds of Coppell when the season was nearing a close, and despite not getting the opportunity to compete in the postseason after securing a 23rd straight playoff bid, Hernandez and his teammates heard from head coach James Balcom about how proud he was and everything they did accomplish.
Hernandez went on to be a first team all-district defender in District 6-6A during his final high school campaign, and this might not be the end of his career just yet as he plans to try out for the club team at SMU.
“I’ll go and play club soccer, and that’ll be good for me because it still keeps that part of my life alive, which will be nice like the teammates and having friends and stuff,” Hernandez said. “I think what I’ve learned from soccer is I’ll be able to carry it over to the other aspects of my life.
“That’s what I’m going to be pursuing like business and I’m going to pursue entrepreneurship in college and something like learning what I did in soccer at Coppell soccer it will be extremely helpful to me in that actual career path. That’s what makes me think even though I’m not going to play like a D1 college soccer team or I’m not continuing to play the sport in college, I’ll never regret what I’ve learned from playing soccer my entire life and just the friendships that I’ve gotten from it.”