Fall colleges preview: Rene Caro cleared multiple hurdles to play for Saint Martin’s

It’s surprising to learn Rene Caro’s preferred sport is soccer.

Given all the hurdles the Saint Martin’s University junior has cleared, you would peg him for a track and field star.

A detour to Portland following a stellar high school career led to a two-year hiatus from the sport of soccer. Once Caro, a midfielder on the Saints men’s soccer team, finally arrived in Lacey and on the SMU campus he was quickly sidelined with a major knee injury.

“It did get to the point where you wonder if it is all worth it,” Caro said about his lengthy quest to return to soccer. “How motivated are you to play again? That’s what it becomes.”

No matter the obstacle, Caro has persevered, pressing on for his passion.

“A lot has been thrown at him,” SMU director of soccer Rob Walker said. “No one would doubt his dedication.”

On a team of offensive standouts at Mount Vernon High School, Caro’s star shinned brightest during his senior year in 2009. The Bulldogs and their quick-strike attack, scored a mind-boggling 109 goals during the season, shattering the state record.

Caro had a hand in nearly a third of those, tallying 14 goals and 21 assists en route to earning all-state honors.

Playing at the next level was obviously the next phase in Caro’s life, but the first roadblock would soon rear itself.

“I am the first member of my family to go to college. We really didn’t know how the recruiting process worked when I has in high school,” Caro said. “When we finally started contacting schools and sending out letters to the places I was interested in, it was just too late.”

Equally successful academically, Caro decided to attend the University of Portland with the hopes of earning a spot on the soccer team his sophomore year as a walk on.

Caro kept busy playing on a club team as the desire to play in college grew.

As the year-long wait was coming to an end, everything appeared to be shaping up until a conversation with Pilots head coach Bill Irwin had Caro rethinking his options.

“He told me my style of play didn’t really mesh with how the team played offensively and I should look at playing elsewhere,” Caro said. “It was certainly disappointing, but (Irwin) was very supportive and helped me find another place to play.”

A call from Caro to Walker got the ball rolling.

“I have known Bill for a very long time,” said Walker, whose step-son, Kasey Keller, was coached by Irwin before moving on to a decorated professional career. “I thought it was a perfect fit.”

Caro’s sophomore season, however, lasted just four matches before ending with a knee injury.

“I tore my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), damaged my MCL (medial collateral ligament) and had a mircofracture. You name it, I had it,” Caro said. “I finally get back out there and then this happens.”

Caro was given a rehabilitation timeline of 12 months. An iron-will, however, helped speed things up significantly.

“He’s back working out in four months,” Walker said. “Rene is the model citizen for rehabilitation. Now, there’s a combination of a lot of factors, anatomy, luck and how well the surgery went, but I think it also shows how motivated he was.”

Granted a medical redshirt following his injury, Caro finally experienced a headache-free soccer season in 2013, starting all 18 matches for the Saints and earning Academic All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference honors.

With the graduation of leading scorers C.J. Chu and Dylan Gaydosh, Caro will be asked to fill the scoring slot a year after netting three goals and handing out two assists for SMU, which finished the season 5-11-2 overall and 5-7-2 in the GNAC.

“In the end,” said Caro, whose younger brother, Cristian, is a freshman on SMU’s squad, “it was all worth it. To end up here (at Saint Martin’s) and play for this program was definitely worth it.”