MARYSVILLE — For Marysville Pilchuck junior Sebastian Navarro, soccer always has been an outlet to get away from the pressures many teenagers face.
The problem for Navarro was that those pressures were relentless, making his off-the-field life a struggle.
“I wasn’t dedicated to my school,” said Navarro, who until this past August lived in Yakima and played soccer for Eisenhower High School. “I was getting bad grades and I was hanging out with the wrong crowd.”
Fortunately, Marysville Pilchuck goalkeeper Kole Bradley-Kuk came into Navarro’s life at the perfect time, and as their friendship developed, it led to a chance for Navarro to change direction and start down a better path.
“I think when (he was) given an opportunity, and I would say that this is a life-changing opportunity to come here, that he grabbed it and ran with it,” Marysville Pilchuck soccer coach Paul Bartley said. “He’s embracing it.”
Navarro met Bradley-Kuk while the two were teammates for Seattle’s Crossfire Premier, one of the state’s most well-known select soccer teams. Bradley-Kuk said the friendship between them really started to develop on the team’s trip to Hawaii in June this past year.
Two months later, Navarro moved in with Bradley-Kuk and his family. It was a most welcome change, Navarro said.
In Yakima, drugs were a problem among his peers and they would try to get him to use, Navarro said. He needed to get away from that.
“I never did drugs because I don’t like that kind of stuff, but it was always there,” Navarro said. “If I ever wanted to, I could. The pressures just kept building up and I just felt like if I stayed there something bad was going to happen. So I just had to move.”
Navarro’s Yakima environment made soccer much more than just a game he loved to play. It was a way to literally escape the negative influences around him. Navarro was so desperate to get away that he would drive himself to Redmond every day to practice with his Crossfire teammates.
“That’s also one of the reasons I had bad grades,” Navarro said. “Soccer was a way for me to get out. That was my only way to get from Yakima and from that area. I just had to figure out a way and soccer was the way out. So I just practiced every day and I drove from Yakima to Seattle every day — five hours roundtrip.”
Navarro, who already was an established member of the Crossfire team when Bradley-Kuk arrived on the team. The two didn’t hit it off at first.
“I was trying out (for the team) and he kept scoring on me over and over and over again,” Bradley-Kuk said. “He was yelling at me and was like, ‘This keeper is trash’ or whatever, just right to my face.”
Navarro said it was common to pick on the new guy and he was just doing his part. Eventually, the teasing stopped and the two slowly started to become friends.
“After a while we started talking and I was like, ‘Alright, this kid isn’t that bad,’” Navarro said. “I spent the night at his house one time and we did yard-work and planted trees.”
Navarro liked the stability at Bradley-Kuk’s home had to offer and began to spend more time there.
“I spent the night a couple more times and I was like, ‘You know what? This is where it has to be. If I want to better my life, this is where it has to be,’” Navarro said.
One day when looking at how poor his grades had become, he finally got the courage to seek his friend’s help.
“My GPA was under a 2.5, just awful,” Navarro said. “I was looking at (my grades) and I was just like, ‘I have to move.’ And I texted Kole and said, ‘Can you ask your parents if I can live with you guys?’ He asked them, they said yes and my world just changed.”
Navarro said his biological parents were supportive of the move because they saw it as a chance for him to better his life. He maintains contact with them almost daily and goes to visit them when he can.
Bradley-Kuk’s parents, Kam and Jeff Bradley, knew Navarro was dealing with a difficult situation in Yakima and everything fell into place quickly.
“My parents knew about (his) situation,” Bradley-Kuk said. “There had been talks about him maybe moving in with us to not do the driving (to Crossfire practice). It was just kind of like, ‘Alright, let’s do this.’ And within the week he had a bedroom set up in our spare room.”
The Bradleys also took the legal steps necessary to become Navarro’s legal guardian, but he thinks of them as a lot more than that.
“I feel like they just put me in their family,” Navarro said. “Now I’m just part of their family.”
And Navarro refers to them that way, calling Kam and Jeff mom and dad and referring to Kole and his other siblings as brother and sister.
With his living situation stable, Navarro turned his attention to playing soccer, but in order to play for the Tomahawks he had to appeal to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) because he had transferred schools.
“I just had to tell them a little bit of my story and they just let me play,” Navarro said. “I didn’t tell them my whole story because of how bad it was. I have some stuff that I haven’t told anybody that’s just pretty bad.”
For everything that Navarro has been through, it doesn’t seem to faze him. Since arriving at Marysville Pilchuck he has boosted his grade point average to 3.5, gotten involved in school activities and become an important member of the soccer team.
“I knew that the (select) program that he was in, you have to be at a really high level to get into that,” Bartley said. “I was expecting he’d be a skilled player and be able to contribute right away — and he has.”
Navarro came on late in the season to become one of the Tomahawks top-scoring threats in their run to the Wesco 3A North regular-season championship. In the regular season’s second to the last game, Marysville Pilchuck beat Stanwood 2-1 to clinch the title. Navarro scored a goal and Bradley-Kuk made several key saves in the second half to preserve the victory.
“Playing on the pitch with your brother — it’s amazing,” Bradley-Kuk said after the game. “The only one that I can think of that’s any more excited is our mom.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.