Kristopher Ospina is the rarest kind of athlete: The Earl J. Lennard High School standout soccer player has brains and brawn to burn.
One of the best soccer players the Ruskin school has ever produced, Ospina has earned a scholarship to Florida College in Temple Terrace.
Ospina operates as a center midfielder, spraying passes to set up forwards and winning tackles to snuff out opposition attacks. If there were a quarterback in soccer, it would be the center midfielder.
“He’s one of the best players I have ever had skillwise,” said Mark Robinson, who has been coaching soccer for 20 years, the last eight as head of Lennard’s boys soccer program. “He’s as good as any center midfielder I’ve ever had.”
In 41 games, the Lennard captain has scored 26 times and set up 20 other goals, according to Max Preps, the bible for high school athletic stats. But it’s the contributions that stats can’t measure — breaking up attacks, envisioning how to develop plays, and leadership on the field — where Ospina excels.
“Ecstatic,” was Ospina’s reaction when he heard about the scholarship offer. “It’s pretty nice to hear that they wanted me to come to their school.”
While he will be keeping his eye on the ball, Ospina is also mindful of the future and plans to earn a business degree at the school. “I just want to develop my soccer there, but also get a degree as well.”
Ospina is a student of the game, constantly looking to improve but also “working hard to make those around him better. He can also see a play developing, and when the other team has the ball, he can see what side of the field that play will shift to,” Robinson said.
It’s those qualities that caught the eye of Saif Alasafeer, the new head soccer coach at Florida College.
“Kristopher has tremendous potential, on and off the field, which is exactly what we look for in a student athlete,” said Alasafeer, a former Florida College player who was named head coach last month. “He is smart, reads the game well, has great athletic ability and has just about everything you would ever want in a soccer player. He also has good character and is a good kid. And from what I understand, he is going to work his tail off for us, so we appreciate that about him.”
Alasafeer, who played semi-pro soccer with the Tampa Bay Marauders of the National Professional Soccer League, recognized the young Ospina’s game.
“He reminds me of me,” Alasafeer said. “He has lots of ability, and, like me, he flows in and out of the game a little bit sometimes, so he might need a little bit of direction there. But he is very calm and composed on the ball, just an excellent player.”
While soccer is littered with tales — and YouTube videos galore — of youngsters with phenomenal talent, seemingly destined for greatness only to never be heard of again, Alasafeer knows what makes the difference between raw talent and a successful soccer career.
“The real difference is mental toughness and how they were brought up,” Alasafeer said. “You may be on a team with 50 players trying for 11 starting spots every week, and if you don’t have the mental toughness, you will not be able to handle it.”
“We are just so proud. It’s hard to put into words,” said an emotional Jorge Ospina as his son prepared to sign for Florida College in a special ceremony at Lennard.
A former semiprofessional player from Colombia who now lives in Ruskin, Jorge said his son’s ability was clear to see early on. “Even at a very young age, he was the only one who could see the whole field. He could see the whole game,” said Jorge, whose son also had an offer to tryout with a professional team in Germany.
Earning a soccer scholarship is no mean feat in Florida, where many major colleges back football over all else. Colleges in the Northeast and Midwest place a much higher value on soccer, where even smaller colleges routinely hand out soccer scholarships.
“Soccer scholarships are few and far between in Florida,” Robinson said. “It’s not one of your big sports in the state. Florida and Florida State don’t even have a soccer program. Many of the big colleges here tend to give their scholarships to football, baseball, basketball and track.”