Another city, another school, another forgotten friend.
Victor Torres lost count as his family traveled from Mexico and across the United States. From Tennessee to California and finally Washington — and many stops in between.
The quicker the moves, the longer it took for him to fit in.
NPSL Cascade Division at a glance
Five teams to watch
Kentwood: Defending division champs are always in the mix and they are ready to reload. Michael Bush calls this his best team since taking the reins in 2015 with an explosive run game and sassy defense.
Kennedy Catholic: Lancers proved they could compete at the Class 4A level last season with some youth in their lineup. Freshman QB Sam Huard is son of former UW star Damon Huard.
Kentlake: Defense drove the Falcons into the playoffs in 2016 and they could make a deeper run this year, especially if they can amp up what was at times an inconsistent offense.
Mount Rainier: Coming off their best season in years, the Rams have their sights set on another playoff run and return enough key pieces to make it happen. Schedule could be in their favor.
Tahoma: The Bears are hoping to parlay a successful offseason into a return to the playoffs after losing a play-in game to Federal Way last fall and finishing a disappointing 3-7.
Five players to watch
WR/DB, 6-1, 180, Sr., Tahoma
Outlook: After an impressive sophomore campaign, the athletic Chapman is ready to return to form after injuries cost him significant time last year (yet he still caught six TD passes in seven league games).
RB/LB, 6-2, 215, Sr., Kentlake
Outlook: If the Falcons lead the league in defense again this fall, Fuala’au will likely be a big reason why. A bruising hitter, he should also be a factor in an improved offense.
QB, 6-3½, 185, Sr., Kentwood
Outlook: Seiber has all of the physical tools plus the intangibles. Passed for nearly 1,300 yards in nine regular-season games as a junior with 10 TDs against just two picks.
OT/LB, 6-0, 240, Sr., Kennedy Catholic
Outlook: Strong, athletic player earned first-team, all-league honors on offense last year (second-team D) and went on to place second at state in wrestling at 195 pounds for the second straight season.
RB/DB, 5-11, 180, Sr., Kentridge
Outlook: Explosive player is dynamic on offense (nearly 8 yards per carry last season) and relentless on defense with the ability to pursue the football from sideline to sideline.
So when he arrived at Mount Rainier High School midway through his sophomore year, Torres thought it might be just another temporary stop with nameless faces and meaningless promises.
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But he found the football program, and Torres finally felt at home again.
“I had really struggled to make friends at Mount Rainier, and it made me sad because I felt all alone, just going to classes then going home,” he said.
Home had gone through transition, too. His parents had recently divorced and he was trying to be the man of the family, helping his mom with his younger sister and brother while she worked a variety of jobs trying to make ends meet. He missed his dad and three older siblings.
Victor and the younger two often got up at 3 a.m. so their mom could take them to her sister’s, where they later caught a bus to school. It was draining, and depressing — although things had been worse. Once, the family of eight slept in a van between housing.
Then Torres saw a sign at Mount Rainier about offseason workouts in the weight room. He started attending and found just the lift he needed — a football family.
“One place that really created happiness and made me feel accepted was the football program, where I was received immediately,” he said. “They (teammates) came up to me, asked me questions and welcomed me. I felt like I belonged. For the first time, I believed that I was going to be OK.”
Torres became good friends with Justin Martinez, who helped introduce him around.
“He was really quiet at first,” Martinez said. “But he’s a really cool guy, and he broke out of his shell his junior year.”
Torres wound up starting at linebacker for the Rams as a junior last year and helped them reach the playoffs for the first time in recent history, finishing among the NPSL leaders in tackles for loss (10 in nine regular-season games) and sacks (5.5). He and Martinez wound up 1-2 in team tackles, 99.5-97 — a fact Martinez no doubt doesn’t let Torres forget in their friendly but intense rivalry.
Not bad for a kid who previously had played just one season of youth football. The family had moved around too much for him to play any school ball.
“He is a sure tackler and he has a motor like no other,” coach Tremain Mack said. “He knows how to get to the ball. He has great instincts, which is odd since he hasn’t played very long. He has the instincts of someone who’s played all his life.”
Mack remembers seeing Torres as a new kid in the weight room that sophomore year, one who kept to himself. He checked his grades and was pleasantly surprised to discover a 3.64 student.
Despite all the moves, Torres knew the one thing his parents expected of him was to do well in school and take advantage of opportunities neither of them had growing up in Mexico.
“My parents had struggled so much to give me the perfect chance, and I had to take it,” he said, noting he one day wants to be able to help others with a career in criminal justice.
Both parents immigrated here illegally, but made sure Victor — and the older siblings, whose mother had passed away — were born in the United States, although they returned to Mexico. He was 7 when they all moved to the U.S., living with family in California.
The divorce was devastating in part because he had to decide which parent to live with, Victor said. How do you choose when you love them both? But when the older three went with their dad, Victor felt his choice was clear. His sister, less than a year younger, and brother (now 11) needed him.
“I knew that I had to take care of the young because they looked up to me for help,” he said.
Mom picked fruit in the fields or worked in a factory, and it pained Victor to see her toil so hard to make ends meet.
“As I watched my mother work harder and harder by the day, I knew that she wouldn’t last very long,” Victor said.
Still, he was stung to hear they were moving — again — this time near his aunt in Washington, where Mom could make a better wage as a custodial worker.
Ultimately, football not only gave him a social outlet, but a physical one.
“I fell in love with the game right away,” said Torres, who played soccer when he was younger but was too physical. “I’m a very aggressive person, and this is a way I can be aggressive and not get in trouble. … Football helps me release everything. I get to hit people on the field, and it lets all my anger out.”
He also tried wrestling last year and just missed qualifying for regionals. But football remains his passion, and he’s excited about the potential for this year’s team.
“I’m pretty sure we’re going to do as well as last year and even better,” Torres said. “We have a better mentality.”
Winning helps in that department. Before last year’s 7-3 campaign, which included a 5-2 record in the Cascade Division, Mount Rainier had won only three games combined in the previous six seasons since moving up to Class 4A.
Victor Torres played a significant role in the team’s climb. And in return the team gave him the emotional lift he needed.