In the first several minutes of every match, Manny Ceja measures up his defender in a couple of different ways. A student of the game, the San Benito High junior forward has become a potent goal-scorer by being aware of his surroundings and sizing up opponents.
“I see if the defender is man marking me or zone marking me,” he said. “I’ll do a couple of sprints to see if he is fast enough to keep up with me. I try to see his negative flaws and use it to my advantage.”
Ceja has scored four goals in seven games this season, a result of putting himself in the most advantageous position on the field. Often times, Ceja can out-run his defender to a ball or just beat him one on one. The 5-foot-11, 145-pound Ceja is optimistic the team can be among the top three finishers in the ultra-competitive Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division—with one caveat.
“We need to communicate more and play basic soccer,” he said. “Get the ball, pass the ball. If we can do that, we have a high chance of having a very good season.”
Ceja was particularly proud of the team’s 0-0 tie with Lincoln High of San Jose on Dec. 17. With half of the team’s starters unavailable due to vacation, the Balers managed to eke out a draw against a solid team.
“We only had one substitute and a couple of other players got hurt the game before,” Ceja said. “We brought up some players from the junior varsity and had to work so hard in that game.”
San Benito is on its third coach in as many years, but the transition to Orozco has been a smooth one since he was the assistant a season ago. Ceja credits Orozco for helping the team hone in on specific areas that translate to the matches.
“It helps that we have a familiar face in coach Orozco,” Ceja said. “He’s teaching us new formations, new conditioning workouts and also a lot more technique. We want to know what to do when we have ball and how to open up the field and get more counterattacks. It’s a lot of basics, but we needed that training.”
Ceja said his father, Manuel, has been his coach since he started playing. The two watch professional soccer matches together, highlighting certain aspects of a team or player.
“My dad points out what I have to do,” Ceja said. “He tells me how to move, and I follow his instructions.”
In his freshman year, Ceja began the season on the junior varsity squad, only to get promoted to the varsity two games in. Then-coach Tony Deras saw Ceja play, and pulled him up to the varsity the next day. Ceja, who said he has to do a better job of releasing the ball and communicating effectively with his teammates, has been a force on the pitch ever since.