Senior Enrique Cardenas captured the Big West conference “Offensive Player of the Week” title following the Anteaters’ victory over No. 11 UCLA. Cardenas was extremely honored by the award and gave all the credit to the many blessings in his life. Known by his friends and family as KeeyKeh, the third year sociology major has come a long way since his humble beginnings to earn such an honor.
“Right when I started walking, I was kicking a soccer ball. I always had a ball with me. Even when I was three, I remember setting up stools and tables and just run from one end to another. That’s really where it started. My dad was always really passionate about the sport. I had just turned four and the league hadn’t started where I lived, so he would drive me to my grandma’s in Pomona just so I could play because his friend had a team. They were all ten-year-olds, though, and I was four so I was just a mess. I thought I was so bad when I started playing, but then when I was with kids my age, I was surprised. I just thought ‘Hey, I am pretty good at this,’” Cardenas said.
From then on, KeeyKeh played in the league for the age group that was a year older. He grew close to his older cousins and was ready to handle kids in the higher division. Even from an early age, his talent was definitely recognized. His freshman year of high school, Cardenas was put on the soccer team at Coachella Valley High School as a Varsity starter.
“Soccer-wise, high school was an incredible time for me. Our community was obsessed with the soccer team. It was such a soccer rich culture,” he said.
His eyes lit up when he remembered the sound of the band’s drums going during games and their massive cheering section chanting their special songs for each player. That is what helped him get pumped for games back in high school, but almost eight years later, Cardenas takes a different pregame approach.
“Now, before games, I read my Bible. Psalms 91 is the one I always read. Then I’ll watch some Messi videos,” Cardenas said with his contagiously cheery grin. “I’ll have a chunky strawberry topper from Jamba Juice. I joke around with Cameron Iwasa saying that every time I have one I score. So I haven’t had one at an away game and I haven’t scored, so he was joking with me that we need to get me one before away games.”
Inspiration doesn’t always come from fruity smoothies for Enrique — mainly it is split between his faith and his family, especially his father. “My father and I had such a soccer based relationship. He made me fall in love with the sport,” Cardenas said.
His father is definitely a huge source of validation when it comes to games. After games, Enrique always looks to his dad for advice on how to improve or encouragement. No matter how badly Enrique thinks he may have played in a game, if his father says he did well, then he knows he did well.
His family has always been a main source of strength for him as well. When Cardenas was offered a pro contract, he turned it down because he didn’t want to leave his family. His life-long dream was to play professional soccer but he wasn’t ready to leave his mother, father and sisters behind. He realized he wanted to play in college and get an education, like his mother had stressed to him early on.
Coming to UCI was the right move in the end. He has grown a lot as a player, especially considering last season. Cardenas and the other players on the Men’s Soccer team all came from near perfect winning records, and it was definitely a rude awakening to lose for the first time. Their losing streak was only made worse by the addition of many players sustaining injuries. The last season got in Enrique’s head but he decided this season would be different.
Starting in May until the end of August, KeeyKeh was on five different soccer teams. He recalls sometimes playing upwards of six games in a week. No matter if he was in Irvine or back home, he was always playing. Whether it was with his indoor league, playing with his dad or in a league of twenty year-olds, he always finds time in his head to pinpoint the fundamentals he wanted to improve on in each game.
He is never pleased with good or good enough, Enrique is always focused on getting better every day. He is going to refine his game mentality.
“My main focus this summer was really fundamentals, consistency. Keeping the ball for the team and playing smart,” Cardenas said. He figured the best way to get better at soccer was just to play it. He set up separate times to just go out and take shots on goal as well as working on his defensive skills.
If there was one thing that he learned last season, it’s that he does not like the taste of losing. This season is already turning around for the ‘Eaters due to the entire team’s hard work and commitment to showing that they are back.
“It’s not what happens when you fall, it’s what you do to get back up,” Cardenas said. He is one of the most hardworking Anteater Athletes and is beyond grateful for his award that he only achieved through his commitment to be better.