CLINTON -- Coaching a teenage boys' soccer team is more than just a sport for Joel Barraza -- it is the opportunity to teach life lessons and create a unified group of diverse young men.
Barraza donates thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteer hours every year to make competition soccer a reality for many young men, but these facts are just a small piece of the puzzle that comprises his Adrenaline soccer club.
"Joel has given everything he has for the team. He is a father figure to a lot of the boys. It's awesome how he genuinely cares about everyone ... He just always cares about the boys, whether our concerns are about soccer or not," said Daren Moon, 18, who has played for Barraza since the team was formed.
Barraza explained that he formed the team six years ago when his AYSO all-star soccer team wanted to stay together. In 2007 he took the boys to the competition level with the Utah Youth Soccer Association. The boys took ownership of their independent team by naming themselves Adrenaline.
"There were a few boys that needed financial help because of different things in their or their family's life, so I would just take care of it for them," Barraza said.
Barraza is the father of five, with one more on the way, and works for a software company in Salt Lake.
Over the next several years the number of boys who needed financial help increased. Some families would move away and new players would want to join the team. Many, but not all, of the boys came from economically disadvantaged homes.
"I wanted everyone to feel equal. I didn't want anybody feeling superior because they had paid and another boy had not," Barraza said.
So, in 2009 Barraza started paying all fees for every boy on the team -- covering registration, field rental, referees, indoor sessions, and trainers. He also purchased the team uniforms. He said he spends at least $6,000 a year to run the team. Some years the cost is significantly more if he has several new members join the team.
"I pay for it all because I really wanted them to play, and I wanted them to feel equal. There weren't any barriers for them to play financially," Barraza said.
The team members come from Clinton, Clearfield, Syracuse, Ogden, North Ogden and Layton. The boys also span age groups.
The team plays at the level of the oldest player, U19 -- which means he will turn 19 during the soccer season. The youngest player on the team is 16.
"Each boy has a story and his own successes. It's been fun to be a part of that and watch them grow, not only in the sport, but as boys to young men. Their confidence has grown as they have had to face adversity with the death of a parent, divorces and other things that rock their world. I try to be an anchor for them, in the small way a soccer coach can be," Barraza said.
Juan Cifuentes, 18, joined the team four years ago as a teen new to soccer.
"We couldn't afford that kind of stuff. I'd never played soccer. It was the first team I had. I didn't know how to play, and I sucked really bad. He was still willing to pay for me," Cifuentes said.
Cifuentes said that when he first starting playing it felt awkward, but as the years passed he created a strong bond with his teammates.
"You just grow with them. Those guys are like brothers. We're really close ... (Barraza) makes sure we all get along. It's a really good environment to make friends," he said.
Cifuentes said that the life lessons he learned from Barraza stood out more than any soccer skill he taught.
"(Barraza) taught us teamwork most of all. He made sure we got that down ... He also taught respect. He didn't like bad sportsmanship. He was really strong about all that and didn't accept any of it," Cifuentes said.
"He teaches us to be the best people possible on and off the field. He teaches us values that go with soccer and with life in general," Moon said.
"It's nice to try to be a positive influence in their life," Barraza said. "I hope I have left them with a good feeling ... I hope I've done a little good."