(Jerome Abarca, in jersey number 30; photo by Ronin Bautista)
The University of the East won 5-1 over De La Salle University on the first match of the UAAP Season 85 Men’s Football Tournament. And the player who made three out of the five goals, rookie Jerome Abarca, was still “rusty” a few days before the tournament.
“Pinagtiyagan ko yan (Jerome) the whole week,” Red Warriors coach Fitch Arboleda told media last Sunday. “Kahit n’ung isang araw hindi pa yan maka-shoot.” But Coach Fitch is happy with the result. “Lahat ng ginawa namin for the whole week bago mag-start ‘yung first game, nag-pay off naman.”
In an online chat with Fullcourtfresh, Jerome shared that he worked hard on his finishing. “All about set pieces ang exercises,” he said. “Like shooting drills… Na-motivate po ako. Sabi ko, kung hindi man nagustuhan yung performance ko sa training, sa laro na lang ako babawi.”
And compensate he did! Jerome made all three goals during the game’s first 45 minutes; the first in the 13th minute to tie the score versus DLSU, and the next goal happened at the 22nd minute, and the third came at the 38th minute, much to the delight of the UE supporters present at the stadium of UP Diliman Football Pitch.
Jerome developed his skills through the Butuan City grassroots football program. He was among the kids who trained in a cemented area called “looban” by the locals. According to coach Bombet Rosales Aven, former Philippine Football Federation Grassroots Development Officer, “Ang tawag kay Jerome noon Mr. Bean…Maliit na bata ‘yan na malikot. Tapos, mabilog ang mata. Tapos medyo malaki ang ilong.”
From playing football after class as an elementary student, Jerome never looked back. Coach Bombet said, “Tuluy-tuloy na din siya hanggang mag-high school sa Agusan National High School under Coach Bonggoy Pareja, hanggang mag-Palarong Pambansa.”
In 2022, Jerome purposely journeyed from Butuan to Metro Manila in the hopes of joining the Red Warriors Football Team, which was then rebuilding its program after being dissolved in 2021 due to the pandemic.
Jerome said, “Pumunta talaga ako dito sa Manila para mag-try out sa UE kasi ‘yun lang ang UAAP school na nag-open for try outs, and may mga dati din akong mga kababayan na nag-recommend po sa akin.”
The 20 year-old Business Management student might just turn out to be one of UE’s latest football discoveries and prized recruits. “Focused siya at mabilis. Isa pa sa strengths niya ay ang kanyang power kick,” Coach Bombet said of Jerome.
For now, the rookie forward is just thankful for the first win. “Big impact po ito sa team para ma-boost ang confidence namin.”
The UE Red Warriors will go up against the UST Growling Tigers on February 23, 2023, at the UP Diliman Football Pitch.
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