Three years ago, a smiling, ambitious foreigner walked into Tomas Pardo's soccer class at Oxnard College and caught Pardo's eye with his soccer skills and attitude.
Since then, that same congenial Argentine has been the most valuable player and leading scorer on the soccer team, and has earned straight A's in the classroom. Pablo Brescia, a 21-year-old student from Buenos Aires, received the ultimate reward for his efforts recently when he was awarded--along with Mt. San Antonio basketball player David Rice--the 1988-89 Wilson Scholar Athlete of the Year. All junior college athletes in the state are eligible for the award.
But the trophy isn't what is important to the determined Brescia. He just enjoys the challenging opportunities that this new, exciting country presents.
"America, California , offers you so much," Brescia said, his eyes wide and his hands gesturing to the ceiling of Pardo's office at Oxnard College. "It isn't just blondes, sports cars, and the beaches. There are some things going on here that are great to be a part of. A lot of things happen here."
They began to occur after Brescia entered Oxnard in 1987 with a desire to learn everything he could about a country he briefly visited in 1981. He succeeded, earning a 4.0 grade-point average in the classroom and Western State Conference honors on the soccer field.
That combination, along with volunteer coaching in youth soccer programs, helped earn him a share of the Wilson award. Not bad for a student who doesn't enjoy school.
"I would be lying if I said I enjoyed school," he said. "I don't enjoy school, I enjoy learning."
Brescia also doesn't care that he wins, whether it's a critical WSC soccer game or a challenging philosophy exam.
"I don't try to be number one, but try to do the best that I can," Brescia said.
That has been pretty good. The Wilson Scholar Athlete Award is available to more than 20,000 athletes attending 106 community colleges in the state. "I was surprised," he said. "It's nice to do something you like and receive an award for it."
Brescia continues to study political science and philosophy at Oxnard. He has used his two years of playing eligibility, but volunteers as an assistant soccer coach and also tutors foreign students in algebra, English, and Spanish.
"Pablo is an excellent tutor," said Rachel Santoyo, director of tutorial services at Oxnard. "He knows what the students are struggling with because he has been there."
Brescia is taking courses that will better prepare himself for the leap to a four-year school next spring. More opportunities, and more work, for the tireless worker who has barely had time to unpack his bags after his family emigrated from Buenos Aires in 1986.
"There are very long days," Brescia said. "But I don't mind as long as I enjoy it."
Brescia attends classes, tutors students, and coaches soccer from 8 a.m. until as late as 8 p.m. Then he either studies, or spends time with his family or girlfriend. It's a tiresome day, but Brescia maintains his warm smile as easily as reading Socrates.
"I enjoy the challenge," Brescia said. "I'm a very competitive person, whether it's dealing with my relationships, playing soccer, or studying. And as long as I know I have given everything that I have, then I have no regrets."
One of his few regrets is leaving his grandparents and friends behind in Argentina. "It is my country of origin, and I love it," Brescia said. "But it hasn't given me anything. What I have is from here."
And it hasn't always come easy. He struggled with some cultural changes when he first arrived. He had to abolish the Spanish tradition of kissing both men and women upon the cheek during introductions. Brescia discovered Americans are hesitant of such displays of friendliness.
"My first week here, I met two of my aunt's students and went to kiss them on the cheek," he said, almost as if he was still embarrassed. "Well, that really surprised them. I learned that it's a handshake with the guys and a kiss with the girls."
He also has learned about other cultural aspects that don't turn his face red. Brescia enjoys spending time with his girlfriend--who is also from Argentina--visiting museums and watching films and plays.
"I love to pursue knowledge," he said. "Maybe I won't find it, but just to pursue it is satisfying."
Brescia hopes to continue that pursuit both in the classroom and on the soccer field at UC Santa Barbara next spring. But he isn't committed to attending that school and would prefer the education and soccer competition at a Division I school, which he can't afford without a scholarship.
"I really enjoy the sport, but also think that I've given enough to it and it should be giving something back to me," Brescia said.
Pardo agrees, and said a Division I scholarship will bring more than a good soccer player in Brescia.
"He deserves an opportunity for a full scholarship to a school like UCLA," Pardo said. "He's going to make a contribution whether it's in athletics or academics, and that will benefit the school."
A scholarship would be yet another award for Brescia, but he won't be upset if it isn't presented.
"It's nice to do something you like and receive rewards for it," he said. "But I don't play for the prizes."