Miguel Hernandez doesn’t need any medical training to diagnose the anxiety he induced in droves of defenders during his James Monroe career.
“Their body posture is shaky,” he said. “They just want to contain me and slowly back up. You look at their legs and they’re kind of just trembling. They don’t really want to get the ball.
“They haven’t even seen me play, but just by word-of-mouth, they’ll be scared of me.”
Aided by a surgical left foot, The Free Lance–Star player of the year did plenty to justify that fear. Hernandez scored 41 goals, accounting for more than half of the offensive output of a Yellow Jacket side that won the Region 3B championship and advanced to the state quarterfinals.
A prodigious talent dating back to his days at Walker–Grant Middle School, Hernandez suited up for James Monroe’s junior varsity team at 14.
“I would’ve picked him up as an eighth grader to play on my varsity squad if I could’ve,” James Monroe coach Shamus Gordon said. “That’s how good he was already.”
He only got better with age. As a freshman, Hernandez filled a roster void as James Monroe’s stopper. Despite his manning a defensive post so distant from goal, signs of a gifted shooter emerged. In the 2015 Conference 28 semifinals, James Monroe found itself locked in a 1–1 tie with powerhouse Kettle Run before Hernandez uncorked a winner from 55 yards out.
The following season, he took over the spot vacated by his older brother, Rafa, at center midfield. Hernandez saw action both there and outside as a junior before assuming the role of striker this spring. So great was the confidence in his ability that Gordon changed James Monroe’s formation to a 4–5–1, with Hernandez alone up top.
“The only way you could really beat us this year is if you could lock Miguel down,” Gordon said.
Few sides proved up to that task. Teammates say Hernandez played at an altogether different speed than the other 21 players on the pitch. And that searing southpaw shot? On occasion, he didn’t even need it.
“He literally walked the ball into the goal, because he dribbled past everybody,” senior co-captain Rye Keeler recalled of one of Hernandez’s four scores against Spotsylvania on May 9.. “He beat the goalie and he just walked in, he didn’t even shoot.”
Hernandez’s torrid scoring is made more impressive by the fact that opponents know how to stop him. Opposing coaches and players shout the advice every game, nearly every time he touches the ball: “Don’t let him go left. Make him go right.”
“And I’ll still go left, every single time,” Hernandez said with a laugh.
While he played with a confidence bordering on hubris, Hernandez frequently displayed his humility as a teammate. A captain since his sophomore year, he offered up the coveted armband to Ritchie Dennis, a defender whose penchant for vocal leadership was more pronounced.
“It’s a maturity you see in someone, especially in high school, when they’re able to say, ‘My asset to this team is being on the field and scoring goals, and maybe there’s someone else who does a better job of being the cheerleader of the team,’” Gordon said.
Initially, Hernandez didn’t plan on playing collegiately at James Madison University, where he’ll major in biology and—you guessed it—pre-med. But after a recent change of heart, he might try to walk-on to the Dukes’ squad.
“I think I’m going to give it a shot,” Hernandez said.
As area soccer fans can attest, when he takes a shot, good things usually happen.