Tony Ho '21 and Emely Alvarado '21 worked their way up the Austin FC ladder, turning part-time gigs into full-time jobs. José Covarrubias ’18 took a different route — he nearly went pro himself.
“Soccer has always been a huge part of my life,” says Covarrubias, now a coordinator with the Austin FC Academy, a feeder club. “I became who I am because of the game.”
His earliest memories from his childhood in Guadalajara are spherical: a soccer ball, an orange, anything he might kick around his grandmother’s house. As soon as he could walk, he says, he kicked. He calls it “an urgency,” and it’s been there from the start.
He joined his first youth fútbol club at just 5 years old. Ten years later, he was playing for a semipro team outside of Guadalajara. At 16, he was playing with an academy for top athletes in Christchurch, New Zealand. After moving with his family to Houston and graduating from high school, he caught up to his dreams. An agent landed him tryouts with several professional clubs back in Mexico.
“I felt pretty confident I would have gotten something out of that,” he says. “But that’s what scared me.”
At 18, he was old enough to see the big picture. A single injury could end his professional career, he knew. And if it didn’t work out, he’d be right back where he started, but so many years older, without a degree or serious job prospects. He decided the better option was to get a college education.
“I could still play at a high level, and open some doors, and who knows?” he says. “There might still be an opportunity for me to play professionally afterward.”
After Covarrubias attended a summer camp hosted by the St. Edward’s men’s soccer team, the coaches invited him to join. During his senior year, a new coach, Tyson Wahl, started volunteering at St. Edward’s. Wahl had just retired after 11 years in Major League Soccer. After graduation, Covarrubias worked toward an online master’s degree via the Football Business Academy in Switzerland, and when he needed an internship to finish the degree, he circled back to Wahl, now general manager of the new Austin FC Academy. He figured the club’s new youth program could use another hand.
“It’ll be a win-win situation,” he told Wahl.
He was right. Today, Covarrubias is the academy coordinator, running logistics (and occasionally coaching) for five different teams of youth age 13 to 17 competing in MLS Next, the MLS’s youth league. Ideally, he says, some of them will eventually play for Austin FC “and be the heroes that you see on TV.” But more important, he says, is “to engrave in them the Austin FC identity.
“We understand not everyone’s going to be a professional player. That’s just the reality,” he says. “They need to look at the big picture. I mean, look what happened to me.”
Covarrubias opted not to go pro, but he’s found a career that still immerses him in the soccer community every day.
“I feel part of something much, much bigger than myself, and it still ties to that dream of playing professional soccer,” he says. “It’s the same passion, and it drives me, and it drives the people I work with.”
By Carson Vaughan
Photography by Chelsea Purgahn
Explore more of this 5-part series of Hilltoppers who are part of a cultural shift as Austin embraces its first major-league pro team, Austin FC.
Austin connections open career doors for student Tony Ho '21.
From the classroom to the office, Alfredo Naim '07 leverages his economic studies.
Emely Alvarado '21 shares her rise at Austin FC.
Stephanie '08 and Edward Dempsey '05 exemplify Hilltopper pride with La Murga de Austin.