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From College Graduate to Pro Athlete: Ricardo's inspiring journey

Ricardo Ibarra is the proud son of Mexican immigrants and inherited his parents’ courage, passion and relentless pursuit of excellence. Those qualities, coupled with a love for soccer and education, helped Ricardo overcome humble beginnings to become the first in his family to graduate from college (and with honors!). 

Ricardo navigated the complexities of college admissions with ease as a student-athlete of ACCESS U Foundation and our partner foundation, Yours In Soccer. Ricardo not only excelled on the soccer field but also academically. He made the Dean’s List every semester at UC Irvine and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Business Economics. 

On the field, he led as captain the last two years of college, lifted the 2023 Big West Conference Championship trophy after a nail-biting penalty shootout, and was named to First Team All-Conference his senior year.

ACCESS U is proud to help our talented scholar-athletes fulfill their academic and athletic potential and achieve their dreams. Read the full interview below.

Tell us about your family’s background and where your parents are from.

Both of my parents came from Mexico. My father is from La Piedad, Michoacan and my mother is from Tepic, Nayarit. They both left their families, friends, and communities to move to San Jose, CA, which is where they met. They were both looking for a better life for themselves and their future children.

How did your parents meet?

My parents met here in San Jose when they were around 22 years old. My dad had been in the US for a few years at that point while my mom had just moved from Mexico. They met at my dad’s aunt’s house who happened to be married to my mom’s cousin. And so, it was there where they were first introduced to one another.

What did your parents do for a living?

My dad worked as a teacher’s assistant at the local school district to make ends meet. My mom, on the other hand, focused on learning English and taking care of my older brother who they had shortly after getting married. 

What was unique about them that they both left to come to San Jose?

What was unique about both of them is that they were both in search of a better life for themselves and a better future for their families. They took tremendous risks leaving everything behind at a young age. Their courage and bravery are something I will always admire and be grateful for. 

How old were you when you first learned to play soccer?

I started playing soccer at the age of 4 when my dad signed me up for my first team. Since then I fell in love with the sport, I played in several local clubs until I moved to Santa Clara Sporting at the age of 10 and the San Jose Earthquakes Academy at the age of 13.

What was your process of getting into UC Irvine and how did ACCESS U Foundation guide you through the college application and recruiting process?

I had first heard about UC Irvine because an Earthquakes teammate of mine, Mario Anaya, who is also an ACCESS U student, had just committed to the school. From there, ACCESS U was instrumental in connecting me with university coaches. After I visited and chose to attend the school, ACCESS U helped me with the entire application process and much more. Education was always important to my family. So, when the opportunity to attend UC Irvine presented itself, I knew I had to take it.

You are the first generation in your family to attend college. What does it mean to you to be able to represent your family, and the Latinx community, at one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S.?

To me this means the world. It is a great pride to be able to say that I am the first in my family to graduate from college. It was a dream come true. My parents sacrificed a lot for me and my brothers. It was a testament to my parents' sacrifices and a source of immense pride and this achievement shows that it was worth the effort they made. As a representative of the Latino community, having accomplished this gives me another level of pride and shows that we can indeed find success in this country.

What was your college dream? Did you make it come true?

My dream was simply to graduate and be able to share that achievement with my parents and siblings. Thank God, I was able to do it.  I graduated in 4 years and my entire family and even my girlfriend, who I met at UC Irvine, were present on my graduation day.

Why did you choose Business Economics as your major?

I chose Business Economics because I was interested in learning more about business and economics. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do after school but I knew I could take many different routes by studying Business Economics.

Being an NCAA Division I student athlete and managing your soccer and academic responsibilities can be extremely demanding. What advice do you have on how to successfully balance soccer and school?

My recommendation is to have a balance between the two and to plan your days. Every night I planned the next day on my phone to make time for my studies, my internship, and also to enjoy life with friends. Another thing is don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are many resources that the university offers and even more that they offer for college athletes. So take advantage of these resources.

Can you share with us your greatest achievements and recognitions as a student and athlete at UC Irvine?

As a student, my greatest achievements were graduating with honors (Magna Cum Laude) and making the Dean’s List every semester I was there.

As an athlete, my greatest recognitions and achievements were having been chosen as captain by my teammates my last two years and also having been named to first team all-conference.

Do you have a favorite moment or one that you remember fondly while playing for UC Irvine?

Winning the Big West Conference in penalty kicks, my senior year, is unforgettable and my favorite memory while playing at UCI.

Were there any challenges you faced as a Latino at UC Irvine? What words best describe your attitude to overcoming these difficulties?

A challenge or difficulty that I faced as a Latino at UC Irvine was being separated from my family for so long. As a Latino, for me family is everything. When I first moved to Irvine it took me a while to get used to being without them and finding a new “family” and sense of community. The words that would describe how I overcame these difficulties are: Curiosity, confidence and faith.

After graduating, what do you currently do?

I'm still dedicated to playing soccer. I was fortunate to be able to sign a professional contract with the San Jose Earthquakes second team.

What are your dreams now?

My dreams now are to have a long and successful career. I want to be able to join a first division team one day. I would also like to open my own business in a few years.

What are the biggest limitations you think Latinxs face in accessing college?

Lack of knowledge.

“Education gives you the opportunity to grow and succeed.” What do you think about this motto?

Without a doubt, education opens many doors to make connections and have a successful career.

What positive impact would you like to leave on your family and in the Latino community?

Being a good example for my little brother who is also going to college and demonstrating to the Latino community that we do have a place in universities.

What advice do you have for future Latinx scholar-athletes who dream of enrolling in college?

Take risks and be proud of your roots. Being Latino, we have experiences and values ​​that we can use  to our advantage. Your experiences and values can propel you to greatness.

What advice would you give to your 14 year old self who is a freshman in high school?

I would advise you to enjoy every second of the process. Time flies by and it's important to take time to have fun. When you grow up, it is normal to find yourself with more stress and worries, but you have to always play with the same joy and be grateful for the blessings of life.

Finally, tell us about how you landed with the San Jose Earthquakes II.  How does it feel to have signed your first professional contract? And what are your goals now being on this new team?

After my last season at UC Irvine, I had the opportunity to join the Earthquakes for the preseason. There I had to earn the position and thank God they offered me a contract. It is a dream come true and I am eternally grateful to everyone who helped me during my career including ACCESS U. My goals being on the team includes earning a starting position, winning games, and as always enjoy every moment.


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