Christmas morning is a special day for most people.
The warm feeling of love in the air and the eccentric feeling of opening presents cannot be replicated on any other day quite like Dec. 25.
For Aldo Becerril, he remembers his first Christmas present like it was yesterday.
“There’s a little baby picture of me opening my first actual Christmas present. It was a pair of soccer cleats. That’s the way everything started,” Becerril said.
When he was 6 years old, and with a fresh pair of kicks, Becerril took the soccer pitch for the first time. Since then, he hasn’t come off it.
Anytime he has a free moment, he is out on a field, practicing and getting better.
That dedication is what helped him become one of the best local high school players in Santa Barbara, and what earned him a chance to continue his playing career at the next level, committing to Westmont College for the next four years.
“Honestly, I never thought this would have happened. I am shocked myself,” Becerril told the News-Press.
“Having the privilege to play and stay in town, especially with a really good school and to get this education, I’m just grateful. I’m grateful that I was given this opportunity and I’m just very happy.”
For most of his childhood, Becerril admitted he never really thought he would attend university.
“I lived in Isla Vista my whole life, in the same apartment. Never did I imagine that I would go to college,” Becerril said.
Once he arrived at Dos Pueblos High, however, he saw an opportunity. And, in his sophomore year, thanks to the AVID program, Becerril began believing college was a viable option for him.
“I started actually saying ‘okay, I can actually work for this right now.’ You know, as a kid I never thought about college, I didn’t even really know what it was. As I got older, I realized going was something I definitely needed to do,” Becerril said.
As a sophomore, Becerril began doing the best he could in school. Outside of the classroom, however, his heart still belonged to the pitch.
When he was a kid, Becerril remembered being a bit overweight, leading to him being one of the last ones during sprints — a memory he recalls fondly.
Still, he never got discouraged. He just kept playing and playing and playing.
“I feel like something that distinguishes me from other players was the fact that I was very hardworking, and if I wanted something I was gonna go get it,” Becceril said.
Soon thereafter, in his freshman year at DP, he tried out and joined the varsity soccer team.
“I was surprised. I mean making varsity for four years was really big for me and being able to play at the varsity level for years was really, really tough and competitive but I like those challenges,” Becerril said.
Becerril didn’t just make the varsity team his freshman year, he played serious minutes. As he kept improving, so too did his team.
During his first two seasons, DP went 15-16-11. In Becerril’s final two years, the Chargers were much stronger, finishing with a combined record of 32-17-4.
As for his own play, Becerril became one of the best scorers in the Channel League. His junior year, Becerril scored 15 goals, leading the Chargers.
He was even more excited for his senior year — even though it almost didn’t happen.
Over summer of 2019, Becerril noted an ache in his shoulder. One night, it was so bad, he couldn’t sleep at all.
“I just couldn’t sleep, I was in so much pain. I got up in the middle of the night and I tried to do anything I could but nothing worked. It was the most pain I ever felt in my life,” Becerril said.
Days later, he noticed his entire body was hurting, prompting Becerril to go to the doctor. There, he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. After that, he stopped playing soccer for a month and thought he was done with the sport entirely.
“I really just couldn’t take it,” Becerril recalled.
Luckily, Becerril was able to get help from a specialist, who prescribed him specific medications that made the pain much more manageable, allowing him to get back on the pitch.
The Chargers were happy to have him, too, as his 12 goals led the team and he helped lead DP to a third-place finish in the Channel League, earning a spot in the CIF-SS Div. 2 playoffs.
In DP’s first round match at Valencia, nothing went right at the start. The Chargers fell behind 2-0. Then Dos Pueblos started a rally, with Becerril assisting on the team’s first goal. The Chargers then tied up the match at 2-2 by the break.
Becerril then fired a shot 20 minutes into the second half to give DP a 3-2 lead.
Still, Valencia fought back, forcing overtime. Once there, the senior made the most of his moment, knocking in a golden goal to send the Chargers to the second round of the playoffs.
The Chargers would go on to lose in the quarterfinals.
“I remember being in overtime, I was already cramping up and I felt like my legs couldn’t go anymore, but I was just lucky enough to get the ball near the goal and put it away,” Becerril said.
“It felt like a storybook senior moment.”
At the time, Becerril really thought his playing career was over. He knew he wanted to go to college, but the schools he was looking at didn’t really have an opportunity there to continue his playing career.
Luckily, Westmont showed up at the right time.
“At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep playing or not but once I thought about not playing soccer, it hurt, I mean it is a big part of me. I’ve been playing my whole life so I thought it would be nice if I could continue,” Becerril said.
“And now, to be able to play but also have the privilege to have my parents come watch me, it’s amazing.”
Becerril hopes to be the first in his family to graduate college.
With the current coronavirus pandemic, his parents likely won’t be able to see him walk for his high school diploma. But, hopefully in four years, they can see him with a Bachelor’s degree.
“I am just speechless. As a brother, as a first generation sibling, you just want to give the best example to your siblings and I am glad I can do that for them and my parents,” Becerril said.
“I am just very thankful for everyone who was put into my life and actually believed in me and supported me. I’m surprised with how far I’ve come but I’m just grateful that everything turned out the way it did. It’s all thanks to them and it’s what keeps me going and I am grateful they believe in me and I am ready for this new chapter.”