Jorge Salinas pulls his 2007 Ford F-150 into the parking lot next to the Our Lady of the Hills practice field at 3:15 p.m.
The agenda for Tuesday’s soccer practice isn’t exactly thrilling. Salinas plans on leading his OLH soccer girls through a weight-training session and then intends to finish practice with some fitness and agility exercises — nothing too special.
Salinas, though, is excited to coach the upcoming practice. After a difficult childhood, he’s learned never to take any days for granted. He wasn’t always the benevolent, charismatic coach that he is today. For the first 12 years of his existence, his life was in tatters. He and his mother struggled to find a permanent home, and the only male figures in his life were in gangs.
“I was a very negative person,” Salinas said. “If someone told me in high school that I was going to be working with kids and that I was actually going to enjoy it, I would have slapped them in the face.”
Which makes all his coaching accomplishments even more impressive. During his 15-year coaching career, it’s been his relentless optimism (and his bad dad jokes) that have inspired countless children to love soccer. He started the soccer program at Notre Dame Catholic School. He became one of the coaches for Kerrville’s club team, the Hill Country Crush, earning a reputation for conducting grueling practices. He’s been coaching the OLH girls team since 2009, leading the Lady Hawks to a TAPPS state title in 2018. And he’s coached at least seven players who eventually went on to play college soccer.
In other words, few people have made a larger impact in Kerrville’s soccer community than Salinas.
“His positive energy, his passion for his players and the sport that he loves inspires everyone he comes in contact with,” OLH principal Therese Schwarz said. “Coach Jorge has been a true blessing to OLH and to our girls soccer program. His positive energy, his passion for his players and the sport that he loves inspires everyone he comes in contact with. I am grateful to have him on our OLH team.”
And Salinas is grateful for the opportunity to coach the Lady Hawks, because he vividly remembers his past. When he was 6 years old, he and his mother, Francisca Rosales, migrated to Fresno, California, from Oaxaca, Mexico, in search of a better life. Rosales did everything she could to provide for her son. She worked in the strawberry fields and in a factory. Still, their new life in America was a struggle. They were occasionally homeless, at one point staying in a women’s shelter home. And without a positive male role model in his life, Salinas began interacting with gang members.
“I saw things I pray to God my kids never get to see,” Salinas said. “At that age, I was way too street smart.”
Salinas’ life, however, began to improve when he turned 12 years old. He and his mother moved to Kerrville, where the latter found a job as a sitter for elderly people. It was here that Salinas finally discovered some stability. His mother married Isidro Rosales, finally giving Salinas a father figure. At Tivy, he had coaches and teachers who believed in him. He also played on a pretty good soccer team, too, helping propel the Antlers to the regional semifinals in 2004. It took 15 years for another Tivy soccer team to advance that far in the postseason.
When he graduated high school, Salinas realized college wasn’t for him. Instead, he decided to stay involved with soccer, considering the sport had always been a source of comfort during difficult times. He started working at the Kerr County YMCA. That’s when he encountered kids from rough backgrounds; some even had worse situations than he experienced. That’s when he also decided to commit his life to helping children become productive members of society. He remembered all the coaches and teachers who had influenced his life. He wanted to do the same for the next generation of soccer players.
“There are so many negative things happening to kids,” Salinas said. “Sometimes they just need one person to care about them.”
So, he resolved to be that person, and by all accounts, he’s accomplished that goal. When interacting with Salinas, it’s hard not to notice his energy. He’s also developed a reputation for making his players expend a lot of energy during practice.
For the last six years during the summer, he’s hosted his infamous fitness camps. During these brutal conditioning session, Salinas instructs his campers to run a mile, perform several sprints up a hill and flip tires. Once they were finished with these exercises, he had them play soccer.
“It was death,” joked OLH junior forward Gracie Morris, recalling her experience from the camps.
At the same time, Salinas always found ways to make playing soccer enjoyable. He entertains his OLH soccer players by telling rather corny jokes. (How do you make a tissue dance? You put a little boogie in it.) He always strives to maintain relationships with his former players. He coached former Tivy all-state fullback Caleb Kissinger when the latter was in middle school. When Kissinger played for Tivy, Salinas made sure to reach out to him before every match.
“He would always give me encouragement before to go out there and give it my all no matter the outcome,” Kissinger said. “I would like to thank him for that, because a lot of players can go out, play and think they are going to lose and just give up. But he instilled grit into me, and that’s the reason I was so successful on the field.”
Salinas hopes to continue inspiring players for many years. In his mind, every day he coaches is a blessing. When he lived in Fresno, he was on a path toward prison. In Kerrville, he has a wife, three kids, a full-time job at Notre Dame and one of his biggest concerns at the moment is trying to lead the Lady Hawks (3-1 District 2-Div. III) to a playoff berth.
“It’s a blessing — the opportunity to work with kids,” Salinas said. “It may not be the full-on American dream, because I think there have been way better American dreams than mine. But for a kid who had no stability, who had nothing in his life, to come to a country, learn the language and learn the culture, I haven’t done too bad.”