First, Kansas City Kansas Community College's first NJCAA Division I national tournament berth and now the College's first NJCAA first team All-American.
The Jayhawk Conference Defender of the Year, sophomore Leonardo da Silva has been named to the 11-member NJCAA Division I All-America first team and a second team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches Association. Only other Blue Devil to receive NJCAA All-American honors was Hiago Gaspar, who was a second team selection last year.
In addition, Da Silva was named to the United Soccer Coaches Junior College Division I All-North Region team and teammate Giovani Calderon, a sophomore from J.C. Harmon High School, was selected to the second team as a midfielder. Previously, Da Silva had been named to the All-Region VI and All-Jayhawk Conference first teams along with being named Defender of the Year.
Led by Ruben Rodriguez, who was named both NJCAA Plains District Coach of the Year and Kansas Jayhawk Eastern Division Coach of the Year, the Blue Devils won the Region VI championship with wins over Garden City 4-0 and Eastern champion Cloud County 1-0 in overtime and then captured the Plains District title by defeating Rose State in a 1-1, 8-7 Shootout and Ranger, Tex., 3-2.
"It's been a pleasure working with Leo," says Rodriguez. "He's a great athlete and a great student. Very focused and determined to achieve high standards. At 6-3 his size helps but you must be technically talented, an ability that's very rare for that height. It also helps that he has great decision making and high soccer intelligence."
A native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Da Silva came to KCKCC on the recommendation of a former Blue Devil player, Bernardo Giardini Rodrigues. "I had come to Orlando (Fla.) to learn English and Bernardo saw me play and recommended me to Ruben," said Da Silva, who began club soccer in Brazil at age 12. It took Rodriguez only one look to sign the 6-foot-3 defender.
Da Silva's first season in 2015 was ended by a leg injury with three games remaining, an injury that kept him from competing in 2016 and still haunts him. "The only games I missed after starting every game my freshman year were the last three when I got badly injured in a game at Neosho County," remembers Da Silva. "Then I had to watch the painful loss to Cloud County in the first playoff game because of the physical pain and the pain of being useless to help avoid the loss.
"Then it got even worse because I didn't recover from the injury in time to play in 2016 and had to take a redshirt. So after a brilliant regular season, I watched my buddies' loss in the first playoff game against Barton County. But I knew since that day that the next season would be more. Something big was coming and I'd fight with all my strength to achieve it for the school, my buddies and me.
"And God wanted the comeback against my biggest nightmare, Cloud County. That definitely was the hardest game of the season. Cloud was 10-0 in the conference and unbeatable but we knew that we could pass through the wall and that's what we did. We played as hard as we ever had and won 1-0 on Ricardo Angelo's goal in overtime.
"So God does these things. I came back exactly where I fell two years ago. The challenge was bigger than just playing the game. I was the captain and I knew that I had to keep the team united. So many cultures, teammates from all parts of the world. However, we did it – day after day, sprints and more sprints, game by game."
As a defender, Da Silva is something of a quarterback. "You can see the whole field and set up your teammates," he says. He now faces the many recruiting options he'll have to face come this May. "He'll have plenty of opportunities," promises Assistant Coach Burke Slusher.
However, he will miss KCKCC. "Definitely a good experience; it feels like home in Kansas," he says. "I feel so blessed to get a great opportunity at a great school and meet all the people and thankful for my coaches who believed in me since the beginning. And most important, my teammates. This team achieved big things because of their special skills and techniques."
In addition to his Jayhawk Conference Defender of the Year Award, KCKCC sophomore Leonardo da Silva has more awards coming. He's the first Blue Devil to be named to the NJCAA Division I All-America first team and the second All-American team selected by the United Soccer Coaches Association. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)