UAAP Men's football: Youngest coach in the league helping turn UE football around

Youngest coach in the league helping turn UE football around
"Talagang hungry din talaga ako mag-turo, kasi nga sobrang bata ko, tapos yung learning kasi, gusto ko, gusto ko talagang matuto talaga,"

At the end of the first round of the UAAP Season 80 men's football tournament, arguably one of the biggest surprises is the performance of the seemingly-remotivated University of the East Red Warriors.

For the better part of the last five seasons, the Red Warriors have floundered on the bottom of the standings and a three-win season was considered respectable.

Now, seven games into the season, the Red Warriors have three wins and ten points, just behind fourth-seeded NU on goal difference. 

Among those wins are over NU and then-top seeded UST. 

Quite the turnaround from the last few seasons indeed, and at the forefront of it all is second-year head coach Fitch Florence Arboleda.

As early as towards the end of UAAP Season 79, where the Red Warriors ended the season on a winning streak, including an upset win over eventual champions Ateneo, it was evident that Arboleda, and his brother Fitch Johnson, had begun to turn things around in the Sampaloc-based university’s football program.

This season, the Red Warriors have a real shot at making the top-four since UAAP Season 73.

According to Arboleda, it all started with changing how his boys acted.

“Number one talaga yung attitude talaga ng mga bata, kasi sila before, makikita mo, sabog-sabog, kanya-kanya naglalaro, so yung talagang pinag-trabahuan namin yung possession.” said Arboleda. “If you see, yung team namin, hindi lang talaga on the field, kahit off the field, para kaming magkakapatid. Kahit ako, yung turing ko sa kanila sa labas ng field, tropa lang talaga, di mo ako makikitang coach sakanila kasi ma-loko din ako. Yun lang, siguro yung naging ano namin, talagang closeness sa isa’t isa.”

What makes all of this even more impressive is that at just 26 years of age, Arboleda is the youngest head coach in the UAAP men’s football tournament.

The Romblon-native says that it’s his youthful hunger that keeps him going.

“Yung ano kasi sa akin, talagang hungry din talaga ako mag-turo, kasi nga sobrang bata ko, tapos yung learning kasi, gusto ko, gusto ko talagang matuto talaga, hindi porke’t bata ako, alam ko na lahat, yun lang, tapos experience.”

Furthermore, Arboleda gets to go against some of the most respected and decorated collegiate football coaches in the country on a weekly basis, and he adds that getting to test himself against his idols is a massive source of motivation.

“Tapos idol ko kasi yung mga coaches, from Ateneo, si coach Jaypee [Merida], kababayan ko, si Coach Anto [Gonzales], ‘sus, coach ng national team, si Coach Hans [Smit] legendary, so mga idol ko sila kaya po na-momotivate ako na makipag-sabayan sa kanila.”

And while the UAAP is indeed the highest level of collegiate football competition in the Philippines, Arboleda admits that he isn’t beyond asking for advice from his seniors in the coaching game. It’s all part of the learning process for the young mentor.

“Nagtatanong po ako, hindi naman po ako yung tipo na hindi ako magtatanong kasi alam ko naman, talagang nagtatanong po ako ng mga pwede kong i-adjust, tapos YouTube, basa ng libro, tapos yung license courses, talagang gustong-gusto ko siya.”

Now a C-level football coach, the Arboleda brothers hope to be able to level up this coming year.

“Kaming dalawa ng kapatid ko, C na, tapos this coming year sana makapag-B na kami, kasi excited kami eh, gusto talaga naming matuto.” added Fitch Florence.

Being a former UE Red Warrior himself, Arboleda takes it upon himself to do what it takes to turn the UE football program around.

And while rebuilding processes usually take years to complete, at this pace, the Arboleda could be able to bring UE back to football prominence sooner, rather than later.

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