Nathan Balderas might be 3,000 miles away from tiny Ariel, Washington, but he still gets a small dose of the Pacific Northwest every day in central Florida.
Sort of, anyway.
“We get a daily rain,” Balderas said. “It’ll rain and it’s 85 degrees. I’ve never felt warm rain like that before.”
The daily, humid rain of The Sunshine State also is where Balderas, an ex-Hockinson High football standout, is taking the reigns of his future. He’s a starting offensive lineman for Fields of Dreams Sports Academy, a post-graduate prep school near Tampa, Florida with hopes of keeping his dreams of playing college football alive.
This fall is Fields of Dreams’ inaugural season of football, and Balderas feels at home again on the field after arriving on campus in late July.
“I missed it for so long,” he said of football. “It took a bit of practicing to shake off the rust; I haven’t played since November. As soon as I got into a rhythm, it started clicking.”
At Hockinson, Balderas was a three-year starter who helped the program to Class 2A state football titles in 2017 and 2018. Primarily a left tackle, Balderas also played center last fall.
But Balderas was dismissed from the team during the state playoffs for disciplinary reasons. Even then, he vowed not to let his future in football disintegrate.
“I wasn’t going to let this dream die and burn out,” Balderas said. “I didn’t want to quit on this. I feel like I have the talent to play football on a higher level.”
Fields of Dreams provides high school graduates an extra year to boost their academic and athletic portfolio, but does not count toward college eligibility.
The football program plays an independent schedule against other post-graduate schools and academies and is not affiliated with the Florida High School Athletic Association. It has a 10-game fall schedule followed by four games in the spring, Balderas said.
Next month, Fields of Dreams faces IMG Academy’s post-graduate team. IMG Academy’s national team is one of the nation’s premier football programs.
At 18 years old, Balderas said he has grown up quickly since arriving in Florida in late July. He lives off-campus with nine other teammates in a five-bedroom, five-bathroom apartment in New Port Richey, Florida. Players, he said, have set daily schedules from meetings and workouts to academic classes to practice times. The biggest thing he’s seen change for the better is maturation.
“Everything that has happened, it was a gut-check and I needed more time to mature,” Balderas said. “I’m almost as far away as possible from home as I could get.
“I had to mature quick when I got here.”
Now, with a new attitude, Balderas sees football in his future.
That’s where Fields of Dreams comes in. So far, the Stallions have packed plenty of horsepower to begin the season. They won their season opener, 27-2, with Balderas playing center. Following a bye week last week, the team’s second game is this weekend.
By taking reigns to help shape his future, Balderas believes spending 10 months in Florida is a win-win.
“And the best opportunity for me to achieve my goal,” he said.