PCC star soccer player to transfer to Ivy League school

Pima Post

In the fall, Fernando Garate will begin classes at Cornell University, making him the first Pima Community College soccer player to be accepted at an Ivy League school, according to David Cosgrove, head coach of the Aztec Soccer Team.

Garate was not just accepted. Cornell University opened its doors with enough financial aid to cover everything. Adding to the bid, the Ivy League School has invited him to play on its ranked soccer team, the Big Red. 

As a valuable player of the Aztec soccer team when they won the 2021 NJCAA Division II National Championship, Garate has learned to manage his time so he could excel in his classes. With a 3.7 GPA, he’s got grades good enough to get him into Cornell.

His competitive nature also has motivated him in the classroom.

“I have a healthy competition to get the best grades,” he said.

Just as Garate had planned his life prior to winning a national championship title and grasping a full ride to an Ivy League school, he continues to plan his future. After he accomplishes his next goals, he will reverse his course and return to his hometown and start a business.

“Growing up, I saw a lot of Hispanics dropping out of school.” 

Garate wants to study in Cornell’s Industrial Labor and Relations School and then start a business to encourage young men and women to stay in school. He also wants to get into coaching full-time, which he already has started doing in addition to his already busy schedule.

Another major goal in Garate’s near-distant view is to get picked up by a pro soccer team.

“A lot of the players in Cornell go professional,” he said. “I will continue the process and go through all the levels to make it to the professional level.”

What does it take to be a stellar soccer player?

“I’m obsessed with the game,” he said. “I’m always analyzing past games and studying the styles of the professionals. I’m always thinking of how I can improve my own game.”

Even though it’s the off-season, Garate still plays four or five games a week.

Garate keeps on focus while still enjoying the game.

“When I go out there, I’m having fun,” he said. “I’m feeling like a kid again. I don’t think about anything else. All my problems go away.”

Not alone on the path to accomplishing such great feats, Garate thanks many of those around him, including “good coaches, great relationships, and my family.” 

Giving credit to his two main coaches, Wolfgang Weber and David Cosgrove. 

Weber was his head coach at Salpointe Catholic High School where Garate was voted Player of the Year in 2021.  

David Cosgrove, head coach at PCC, guided him on his plays and handed him the Captain Armband, which catapulted him into the chair as team leader. 

Cosgrove also connected him with Cornell.

“Fernando is a perfect example of why Pima athletics is so important to Tucson,” said Cosgrove, who has helped cultivate hundreds of student-athletes since he began coaching the team in 1998.

The No. 1 goal of the PCC soccer team is to guide student-athletes into getting a good education while at PCC and then transferring to another school to continue their education. The No. 2 goal is to win another national championship. Cosgrove outlined the bigger picture of the team he has coached into winning two national titles, one runner-up and two third places.

One of the jobs of a team leader is to keep the team together, Garate said. 

“There are always arguments in the locker room,” he said. “It can get heated based on frustration that builds up in the field. If it’s super serious, I remind the guys that we are brothers and we play for each other. I talk it out with them, and in the end, they shake hands. If it’s little, I’ll make jokes and the guys can laugh. 

“I remind them, it’s just a game and we are family.”

Garate doesn’t just resolve conflicts. He has motivated players to give it their all.

Daniel Ehler, another PCC player from Tucson, started his first year with the team when Garate was captain.

“As captain last year, Fern led by example and demonstrated the intensity and quality we had to train day in and day out,” Ehler said. “He was very welcoming to the new players and let them know what it takes to be successful at this level.”

Garate started playing soccer at 4 or 5 years old. His dad, Fernando Garate Sr., also a Tucsonan soccer player, taught his son to play when he was very young. He also taught him to commit.

To play well, “you have to sacrifice a lot of things to get there,” Garate Jr. said. “I gave up the normal life of a teenager.”

He gave up school dances and parties because he was traveling to tournaments.

“I don’t regret anything,” he said. “They were having their own fun, and I was having mine.”

Garate saw that his parents had to sacrifice a lot, too. 

“It wouldn’t be possible to be where I am if it weren’t for my parents,” he said. “They drove me to every game, every practice, every tournament.” 

His parents, Fernando and Yessica, have provided him with more than just logistical support. They kept him going in a demanding sport that can damage self-worth and the body.

As a freshman in high school, Garate suffered an injury in the field. He needed ankle surgery, and the surgeons removed extra bone in his ankle. He was in a cast for three months. 

“I was really down because during that summer I was going to go into a tournament where a team was looking to recruit,” he said. “My dad helped me stay positive, and he told me more opportunities will come.”

And more opportunities did come. 

Having learned from his father and his coaches, Garate currently gives back and coaches younger players.

During the playoffs, one of the senior players at Salpointe wasn’t getting much playing time. He needed to be out in the field to get seen by recruiters, similar to the same problem Garate had when he was laid out with a cast in his freshman year. 

“I told him more opportunities would come and then he got the opportunity,” Garate said. “He played in the finals, and his team won the state championships.”