Jose M. Bravo Jr. loved soccer. He played at Missouri Avenue Elementary School and was taught the intricacies of the game by his dad, Jose Bravo Sr. Jose Bravo Jr. was a soccer junkie, would play anywhere and anytime. The problem was he was small for the goalie position.
He wanted to start varsity his junior year but would have to play behind a senior. Jose Jr.’s chances of living his dream as a senior and being the Coyotes’ starting goalie as a senior seemed bleak.
In his senior year in 2004, Roswell coach James Vernon did give Jose Jr. a chance to start. After the first game, he replaced him with Christopher Meeks. Vernon felt it was not about Jose Jr.’s height, but about his confidence. Vernon thought Jose Jr. was giving up too many goals and was looking for a way to get the team going and winning.
After the third game of the season, Meeks told Vernon he did not want to play goalie, but forward instead.
Vernon told Jose Jr., “I’m giving you the keys, this is your boat and your team.” Jose Jr. did not disappoint, as he helped lead Roswell to a 10-8 record. The Coyotes lost in the quarterfinals to Onate, 5-4 in overtime on penalty kicks, ending his high school career.
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“He had his hands on every single penalty kick,” Vernon said. “He guessed the right way every time, he just couldn’t keep it out of the net. Jose (Jr.) was always determined to make himself better. He was a team player and he still does that to this day. He tries to make himself better in everything he does. He doesn’t care what other people think, he wants to prove to people he’s that good.”
Jose Jr. ended up making second-team all-district and second-team all-state. He also won the Gatorade Will to Win Award for the team.
“I learned everything from Vernon,” Jose Jr. said. “He was one of the best coaches I ever had. He made us work and taught us how to work. He was honest with us. He told us we were not good enough to beat other teams and we would have to outrun and outlast other teams.”
As Jose Jr.’s high school career ended, he looked for a way to stay in the game and contribute. He didn’t go to college to play, but he wanted to stay involved in the game and help kids.
Jose Jr. had refereed games as a kid and as a way to make extra money. His father was one of the best referees in the state and had worked with the New Mexico Activities Association for 38 years.
Jose Jr. thought to himself, “Why not try being a referee?” He was a natural and a favorite among coaches. His knowledge of the rules and his ever-present positive demeanor has helped him in his quest to be the best referee he can be.
“My dad is the reason I started refereeing,” Jose Jr. said. “I always had respect for him, he has always been good with the kids and fair with them. He was always a good boss. He is still my go-to guy, along with Peter Stover and Dominic Diosdado.”
Mission accomplished. He has been the best referee in the state of New Mexico, not once but twice. Jose Jr.’s talent as a referee knows no bounds or gender as he has been selected as the top referee in the state for his excellence by the boys and girls.
Recently, Jose Jr. was selected by the National Federation of High Schools as the Boys Soccer Official of the Year in the 2019-20 season. He received his first award in the 2014-15 award for Girls Soccer Official of the Year.
Not only has Jose Jr. had to be superb as an official, but he took on the role of the assignor for southeastern New Mexico last year. The 12-year veteran has worked seven state tournaments and seven championship games.
“I worked really hard,” Jose Bravo Jr. said. “My work ethic is still the same. I never got complacent after winning the first award. I want to win another one now.”
Not only has his work not gone unnoticed, but he has bigger ambitions in his life and career. He qualified as a Division I referee. He has worked some Eastern New Mexico spring games and wants to add in college games, as well to his already busy career. Jose Jr.’s goal is to referee a New Mexico United game and become a professional referee.
The last championship game he did was Albuquerque High vs. Hobbs on the boys. Jose Jr. noted the game was special, not only because it was a championship game, but in how it was played. There was an intensity there that made him focus mentally and physically on every play.
Jose Jr. says to be a top referee, one must be in shape. He runs anywhere from 6-9 miles a game. He tries to be in position on calls and keep his composure. He believes in letting coaches express themselves and if he misses a call, he will admit to it.
“If I get amped up,” Jose Jr. said, “the kids see that and they get amped up and the game gets amped up. I try to stay cool, calm and collected.”
Jose feels like the difference between soccer in southeastern New Mexico and up north is the teams up there have more numbers to choose from and more depth. He feels like soccer has gotten better down here, but a team down here might have eight players that can play, but up there, teams will have 15-16 players that are strong and have the endurance that coaches can sub out and not lose any talent or skill.
The best game Jose Jr. ever refereed was a 2014 quarterfinals game between Sandia and Cibola. The game was physical, and he feels like his game management had to be perfect in order to stay on top of the action. Sandia was ranked as the No. 6 team in the state and Cibola was the No. 1 team, which added pressure to the game because it was his fourth year as a referee and his second year at the state tournament.
“That game gave me confidence as a referee,” Jose Jr. said. “That game was intense and led me to where I’m at today. It gave my assignor and mentor confidence in me, which gave me a semifinal game and I ended up in the championship game.”
In his 12-year career, Jose Jr. has had mentors in Mark Merritt, Paul Quan and Greg Rach who referee college and pro soccer games. He believes that if they can make it, why not him. Jose Jr. referees because of the kids and his love of the game.
“He wants to be good at refereeing,” Vernon said. “I think he can go pro as a referee; he’s determined to do those things. I think he can do it.”
The last thing on his bucket list is to referee a game with his dad, Jose; and his brother, Derek. That could happen once play resumes as Derek will be a first-year referee.
“I’m going to do this until the wheels fall off,” Jose Jr. said.
Sports Editor’s Note: With this pandemic, RDR Sports will have some exciting features for Sunday mornings to help you start your day off right. Next Sunday, we will have former Roswell football player and former Las Cruces championship coach Jim Miller. Other upcoming Sunday features will be on Assistant Coach of the Year Art Bolanos, as well as First Responders and how they are staying in shape.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.