Like all of his peers in the previous 2020-2021 school year, Darrius Leto spent his junior year at Los Gatos High relegated to remote learning.
Knowing nothing was going to change, Leto decided to look into attending a soccer academy overseas which would allow him to keep playing soccer regularly while attending school online.
“During online school, I was just staying at home and thought about what I could do that would be beneficial for me during this time,” said Leto, who is a senior defender/midfielder and co-captain with Kai Perez on the Wildcats boys soccer team.
So Leto and his family made some overtures to European-based agents which ultimately led Leto to spend two stints playing for Olympia Professional Academy in Sulmona, Italy. Leto’s first stint with the team—which involved practices and scrimmages—started in late September 2020 and went to Thanksgiving, and his second stint with the team went from May 2021 to early July.
“I loved it so much there from the first time I was there—from the lifestyle to the different style of play—that I decided to come back and play for the team in that second trip,” he said. “The second trip was a real season for a lower level professional team that had an academy 2004 age group team. It was a great experience and a really nice introduction to what I hope to be doing in college because I was living by myself which was very interesting for me. It was something I had to adapt to.”
Despite being overseas, the schedule worked out nicely for Leto, who trained with the team in the morning and afternoon and because of the time zone difference had online classes in the evening.
“I was able to do all my classes and kept my grades up,” he said. “It worked out great.”
Leto said he further improved his soccer skills in Italy, and returned a more polished player. Wildcats coach Frank Marotti Jr. said Leto also developed his in-game decision-making.
“Darrius had a pretty cool experience in Italy and came back a lot smarter with a little different outlook on the game,” Marotti said. “He’s a left back and utility player, and I had him in the midfield versus Leland and up top as well. He’s really skilled and can play anywhere, and his leadership has helped us in a big way.”
Leto is looking to help lead Los Gatos to a turnaround as the team has struggled for the last month after playing well in a 1-1 draw with Watsonville on Dec. 9. Since then, Marotti said the team hasn’t quite matched the work rate and execution they showed from that contest.
“We had a Zoom meeting a couple of days before Christmas where I laid it out that it’s going to be up to them and how they work because it’s really been the work ethic from a couple of key positions that’s been missing,” Marotti said. “The focus is trying to get back to the level we’re capable of. If we win league, then we get a ticket to the dance and that’s all we’re hoping for right now. That’s still the goal for the players and myself.”
Perez, the team’s outstanding forward, excels on the field and in the classroom. Marotti said Perez carries a 4.6 GPA and has applied to schools like MIT and California Institute of Technology.
“On and off the field, Kai is pretty much what you want out of a player,” Marotti said. “You combine what he does as a player and his grades, and you don’t run into many players like him.”
Leto is optimistic the team can return to its early season form when it was playing with a relentless energy, marking solidly, unleashing counter attacks and players supporting each other whether it was making the extra pass or moving well off the ball.
“I think we need more energy in practice and in games,” he said. “We need higher intensity and to uphold each other to a higher standard than how we’ve been playing the last few games.”
Said Marotti: “I still have a lot of confidence in this team in the leadership and possibilities. We’ll keep fighting until there’s no more time left basically.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.