Waubonsee Community College sophomore Justin Salazar of Elburn is the consummate student-athlete, accomplishing extraordinary things both on and off the soccer field. In honor of these accomplishments, Waubonsee has named Salazar the college's Featured Student for February.
Most of Salazar's recent press clippings center on the season that he and his teammates had this past fall, winning the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference title for the first time in Waubonsee's history.
"We beat Oakton (Community College) to win the conference championship, and our whole team ran out on the field," Salazar said.
"It's definitely one of my greatest soccer memories."
He also lists it as his greatest athletic accomplishment this year.
"Bringing home the first championship in the college's history is something I'm very proud of," Salazar said. "Plus, it's a team award, so that's always great."
While the success was truly a team effort, Salazar has been singled out for his outstanding performance as the Chiefs' goalkeeper. His individual honors include being named a National Junior College Athletic Association Third Team all-American and the top keeper of the All-Region IV Champions Group.
Statistically speaking, Salazar's 125 saves ranked him eighth in the nation among NJCAA Division I keepers, while his save percentage of .856 placed him 14th.
Even though Salazar is the one earning these honors, he is quick to give credit to his teammates and coaches.
"I had a great defense, so that was huge," he said. "And our other keeper (teammate Ricardo Gomez, of Aurora) helped me train and was great at scouting out the other team, letting me know who the good shooters were."
The biggest key to Salazar's and the team's success may have been the climate of the program and the mentality of Head Coach Brett Suhayda.
"I just feel really comfortable here," Salazar said. "Coach (Suhayda) is great, and I got along really well with my teammates. Playing soccer did not seem like working this season. I really got back to the enjoyment of the sport."
It is a sport he has enjoyed for about 16 years now, having started playing when he was 4 years old.
"I became a goalkeeper pretty early on," Salazar said. "As an 8-year-old who was sort of on the heavy side, I realized that was the position where I didn't have to run as much."
Of course, the life of a collegiate student-athlete involves a lot of running -- both literally and figuratively.
"Being a student-athlete is hard to balance," Salazar said. "You want to dedicate yourself to the sport as much as you can, but studies come first."
Salazar's perfect 4.0 grade-point average proves just how serious he is about studying, but again, he is quick to acknowledge the help he has received along the way. In this case, it was Waubonsee's Student-Athletes Taking Academic Responsibility program.
"The S.T.A.R. counselors are a great resource that I use as much as I can," Salazar said. "They get everything set up for you."
Salazar's plans for the future are not quite set, but he has some ideas. He will graduate from Waubonsee this summer and then possibly transfer on to Aurora University to play soccer.
"I'd like to keep playing soccer and see if that takes me anywhere, maybe play professionally," Salazar said. "If not, I may go to medical school."