Photo/James Pugh

After 19 years with the Laurel soccer program, Julio Martinez is stepping down from his post as head coach. Martinez, though, plans to remain at the school as a teacher.

“This is the second hardest decision I’ve ever had to make after deciding to leave my family behind in Honduras,” said Martinez. “I was single then, and I left my mom and my sisters behind to come to pursue a college degree. That was 25 years ago.

“I prayed to God for one opportunity to come to the United States and get an education.”

The opportunity came for Martinez. He later earned a degree at Southern Miss before being hired at Laurel to coach the soccer program.

“This school district means so much to me,” Martinez said. “They didn’t know me well, but they still allowed me to come and gave me a job. I care so much for this school district, these kids, their parents, the school administrators and superintendent. They are my family. As I said, all my family is in Honduras, but I consider these people here my family too. Whenever I needed something, the administrators are there for me. They’ve accepted my kids and my wife.”

Martinez has seen quite a bit of success during his tenure as head soccer coach at Laurel. For example, in 2015, eight players under the leadership of Martinez signed soccer scholarships with Mississippi JUCO’s and universities. In 2016, five Laurel soccer athletes moved on to the next level.

The most recent Laurel soccer player under Martinez to sign an LOI (Letter of Intent) was Juan Lechuga. The senior captain signed with JCJC soccer on Friday, March 2.

“There have been so many over the years,” said Martinez. “I don’t even want to begin to name all the players who have signed scholarships because I’m afraid I might miss one. I’m so proud of our players and the coaches that have trusted in the abilities and talents of these kids. It’s an impressive amount of scholarships that our kids have signed [over the years].”

 



 

Martinez has never won a state championship at Laurel, but he says the number of kids he’s been able to help get their education paid for because of their talents on the field is his own “personal state championship.”

“To see these kids use their God-given talents to get an education beyond high school reminds me of the opportunity I was given because of my music,” said Martinez. “Someone allowed me to come to America because of my talents and get an education.

“And that is what I have been telling them. God gave you the abilities to play this sport, so use them to further your education. I’m so blessed that God has given so many that opportunity.”

The decision to step down as head coach wasn’t one that was decided on overnight according to Martinez.

“This has been a decision in the making over the course of the year,” Martinez added. “I’ve been praying to God to lead me. And as a man I’ll have to admit, not making the playoffs with the girls since they gave them to me and not making the playoffs with the boys for the past two seasons, I have to admit that it’s my fault. As a coach, when the goals are not fulfilled, it’s the coaches fault. I just feel they need someone else to equip them better. Maybe that will make a difference.”

Depending on the situation, Martinez may help the soccer program as an assistant.

“The foundation for the program to succeed is there,” said Martinez. “That is not why I am stepping down. I am stepping down to spend more time with my family before it’s too late.”