High school boys soccer: Coach Hopkins, Pulido led South resurgence

Published 12:01 am Sunday, November 20, 2022

By David Shaw


LANDIS —  Timothy Hopkins and Ozzy Pulido weren’t searching for a spotlight when the South Rowan boys’ soccer season began in August.

But by November, the spotlight clearly found them. The second-year coach and do-it-all senior played vital roles this autumn as the Raiders turned up the volume on a program that had lost its voice and grown silent.

Hopkins is the astute coach armed with a former player’s mindset who steered South to its first state playoff berth since 2019. And Pulido, the sharp-eyed center halfback, found a way to stand out simply by fitting in. Now come their rewards: Hopkins has been named the Rowan County Coach of the Year and Pulido the Player of the Year.

“It’s quite an accomplishment, quite a story,” the 42-year old Hopkins was saying earlier this week. “I’m not sure I’d have believed you if you told me a year ago. But I learned to appreciate and get the most out of my assistants (Dallas Mesimer and Angel Dominguez). It’s a staff that really gets the Coach of the Year.”

South went 14-8-1 overall this season, finished second in the South Piedmont Conference (9-4-1) and dropped a first-round 3A playoff game to favored CATA. Those were big steps for a program that has endured a lot of losing, posting a .287 winning percentage over the past decade. Thank you notes can be addressed to the five Raiders who scored at least 10 goals, a list that includes the easygoing Pulido. He finished with 10 goals, 17 assists and 37 points — good enough for fifth place in the conference scoring race.

“I am surprised to win this,” he said with a boyish smile. “There’s so much competition in the county. I’ve always felt there were better players than me out there.”

Perhaps, but none that meant as much to their team. Pulido was an omnipresent force, a two-way player with a knack for finding the open man.

“His 17 assists — that’s truly a testament to his ability,” said Hopkins, a Northwest Cabarrus graduate and former Kannapolis police officer. “He played the center-midfield role so well. He was especially good at getting the ball to guys in scoring position. He elevated the team that way.”

It was a team that enjoyed a five-match winning streak in October, turning a cordial 7-6-1 sit-down of a season into an all-you-can-eat buffet. Pulido netted four goals and three assists during the surge while Hopkins sagely guided a well-oiled group that outscored opponents 18-4.

“I’m thankful for all of it,” Pulido said. “Having a winning record and making the playoffs is always a good thing. My sophomore season, I don’t think we won a game. But the improvement last season, that was a pretty good feeling. The whole team sensed it. This year we always believed we had a playoff team — and the coaches made sure that stuck with us.”

South went 1-12-1 in the COVID-infused 2020 season before improving to 6-14-1 a year ago. With seven seniors on South’s 2022 roster, all the Raiders understood this year came with a looming sell-by date.

“Last year we were middle-of-the-conference,” Hopkins noted. “But we felt there were some games, some moments that could have pushed us closer to the top. This year we embraced that team-first line of thought. We were all going to do well together. If we did that, we knew we’d get there.”

They did —  and now the always-entertaining Pulido is the poster boy for their effort. Playing with a pass-first, shoot-second mentality, he was a major distributor and steadfast defender.

“I don’t like being a selfish player,” said Pulido, dovetailing into a story about former South player and neighborhood mentor Daniel Trejo. “I was never like that. Right from first grade, when (Trejo) made me love having the ball at my feet, I always wanted to get my teammates involved. Sure, if I have a chance to make a play or get a shot, I’ll take it. But if a teammate has a better opportunity, I’ll try to get him the ball.”

Getting Pulido the ball this season was like DaVinci applying a final brushstroke to the Mona Lisa.

“He gave us what we needed — and then some,” said Hopkins, a likable fourth-year history teacher. “I’ll remember Ozzy as someone who put his teammates in better situations. He recognized when he needed to make that one extra pass to put someone in scoring position. It’s just his make-up. He’s a great student — National Honor Society — but he’s the kind of guy who wants to blend in. There’s always going to be players who don’t have great stats, that won’t get recruited by big-time colleges, but who put their own team first. That’s Ozzy. There’s also a switch he flips and becomes very competitive, very ready-to-go, when he steps on the field.”

This year it was a step that gave Hopkins, Pulido and the South program its voice back.

All-Rowan County

The Post determined the number of players for each team, based on the team’s season. Head coaches (or ADs) were consulted for picks for their school.

South (5) — Ozzy Pulido, Mateo Diaz Ruiz, Camilo Pacheco, Zander Efird, Michael Coles

Salisbury (4) — Yatti Avilez, Carlos Henriquez, Abdul Eliwa, David Austin

Carson (4) — Davin Garcia, Gabe Honeycutt, Cesar Perez-Vega, Gabriel Gomez-Sanchez

West (3) — Rodrigo Pacheco, Jose Hernandez, Juan Calleja

East (1) — Carter Honeycutt

North (1) — Jonathan Reyes