Jessee Infante was the only freshman on the Hubs varsity soccer team two years ago, and he was such an unknown player that Rochelle assistant coach Ryan Winterton couldn’t remember his name.
Infante wasn’t sure if he would make the varsity team in his first year at Rochelle Township High School. But the talented striker proved himself wrong, and after excelling as a sophomore midfielder last season, Infante has earned co-captain honors as a forward this year. He’s still called “freshman” by his teammates and his coaches, but Infante has quickly established himself as one of the elite soccer players in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference.
“I went out there to prove a point,” Infante said. “I was told during the summer that I wasn’t going to make the varsity team, but I went out there to prove that I deserved to be on the team… It’s a really big honor to be a captain, especially as a junior because I still have another year.”
Despite two tough losses recently, the Hubs are off to a solid start in 2017, posting a 7-3 record over their first 10 games including a 2-1 record in conference with wins over Ottawa and LaSalle-Peru. A big reason for Rochelle’s success has been the play of Infante, who ranks near the top of his team in both goals and assists. The junior attacker recorded two goals and three assists in a 7-1 win over Somonauk earlier this season, and he notched three goals in a 4-0 shutout of Belvidere.
“I was a midfielder last year so I was in a position to give the ball up a lot more and not score,” Infante said. “Now I’ve been moved up to striker so I’ve been able to play to my strengths and score more goals to help the team out... We tend to attack right when the whistle blows and we try to score the first goal. Sometimes we fall short, but we always attack by playing down the wings and crossing in or feeding strikers over the top on through balls.”
Rochelle’s current roster features a plethora of juniors and sophomores, with several freshmen sprinkled into the mix including Zane Walters, Juan Cincire, Josh Hurtado and breakout performer Brayan Orozco, who scored three times in a 5-4 loss to Kaneland on Thursday. Infante and his teammates go back as early as middle school, and while the boys competed in leagues over the summer to train for the season, Infante said the group is still learning how to play together.
Once the lone freshman on his team, Infante said he’s also working to help Rochelle’s current first-year varsity players adapt to the faster pace of high school play.
“The season is going pretty well,” Infante said. “We all build ourselves up to be strong individually, and we make ourselves better players so when we come together, everybody is willing to make the whole team better… I just have to talk our freshman through what the game is going to be like. They’ve played on other teams, but varsity soccer is a whole different game because it’s much more physical.”
One of four siblings including Rochelle graduates Edwin and Kevin (who each played soccer at RTHS) as well as senior Sally (who currently plays for the Lady Hubs), Infante began playing soccer when he was 7 years old. He said he takes the game more seriously than his brothers and his sister, and he said much of that is due to his father Roberto, who he said taught him nearly everything he knows about the game.
While his father has served as his greatest role model, Infante also said he tries to model his game after some of soccer’s premier strikers including Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi.
“My dad helped me understand the mental aspect of the game,” Infante said. “He taught me how to read the game and how to play it, especially my finishing moves. I’ve played under a lot of coaches, but my dad has taught me most of the things I know.”
Rochelle’s schedule won’t get easier as the season progresses, but Infante and his teammates appear ready for the challenges that lie ahead. With a shot at the conference championship in sight, Infante said his goal is to keep climbing the ladder in order to come out on top.
“Beating Sterling is urgent right now,” Infante said. “We need to hand Sterling its first loss so we can still win conference. I feel like that’s manageable too. We just need to stay focused the whole game.”