In less than a year, Ramon Martin del Campo has transitioned from an obscure college soccer player into a top professional prospect.
In early spring, the UC Davis senior made the Earthquakes’ new Under-23 Premier Development League team and quickly became its leader and best player. Later in the spring, he was training and playing against Chris Wondolowski, Julian Green and Kyle Beckerman as they prepared in the Bay Area for the World Cup in Brazil.
That exposure helped Martin del Campo earn a spot on the U.S. U-23 National Team – he played against Bahamas in August – and a chance to compete for the United States in the 2016 Olympics.
Now, the 6-foot-3 defender is considered a possible Major League Soccer pick in January’s draft.
All from a player who did not come through the Olympic Development Player system, wasn’t highly recruited out of high school and didn’t receive a major all-conference honor in his first three seasons at UC Davis.
Martin del Campo admits it’s a bit wild and crazy – but not completely surprising for someone who has never lacked confidence and has a strong faith.
“Ever since I first put on my soccer cleats as an 8-year-old, I’ve wanted to be a pro soccer player,” Martin del Campo said. “God has a plan, and he’s opened many doors. I’ve learned that I’ve just got to be patient.”
Martin del Campo said his immediate plan is to help the Aggies win the Big West Conference championship and make a run in the NCAA playoffs. The Aggies have lost only once in 15 matches entering Saturday’s conference showdown against Causeway Cup rival Sacramento State at 7 p.m. at Bonney Field.
The defense has allowed just nine goals, has had three consecutive shutouts and ranks among the top 10 nationally, and the Aggies (6-1-8, 4-1-1) lead the four-team Big West North Division.
“He’s a leader, both with his play and vocally,” junior midfielder Ryan Gross said. “Off the field, he gets us excited to play. On the field, he moves us around, helps us with our shape. And he’s an incredible player. He works hard every day he comes out.”
Goalkeeper Kris Schultz, a close friend and roommate, said Martin del Campo’s dedication is unparalleled.
“He’s always had aspirations to play at the next level, so he’s always putting in the extra work,” Schultz said. “He’s always working after practice, always watching film. He’s very committed.”
College soccer wasn’t even in the picture for Martin del Campo when he was growing up playing for his neighborhood teams in Chula Vista, a suburb of San Diego.
“No one went to college; no one had the grades,” Martin del Campo said. “I figured for college, you just showed up and tried out for the team.”
But when he was 16, he and three friends started driving 45 minutes north to play for the high-profile FC San Diego soccer club.
UC Davis coach Dwayne Shaffer was scouting another high school player when he heard Martin del Campo commanding his teammates on an adjacent pitch.
“He was everything we were in need of,” Shaffer said. “Size, strength, technique and, most of all, vocal leader. Within a week, we had Ramon on the campus and committed to us. He’s been awesome ever since.”
When the Earthquakes decided to field a U-23 developmental PDL team coached by Shaffer’s good friend, Dana Taylor, Shaffer recommended Martin del Campo.
It didn’t take Taylor long to realize he had a gem, too.
“Halfway through the very first training,” Shaffer said, “Dana calls me from the field and says, ‘I’m going to sign him right now. He’s everything we need. He’s going to be the captain of my team.’”
Martin del Campo made the All-PDL team and was one of three players in the 64-team league considered for the Young Player Award (21 and under) that went to Tucson FC’s Ricardo Velazco.
He caught the eye of U.S. National Team assistant coach Tab Ramos when the Earthquakes’ U-23 team scrimmaged the World Cup team to a 1-1 tie last May at Stanford Stadium. That led to his chance to train and play with the U-23 National Team in the Bahamas in August.
Martin del Campo was one of only three college players on a roster of pros, raising his profile even more.
“Ramon’s chances of playing professionally are very good,” Shaffer said. “We’ve had several MLS scouts at all of our games, and some have been here three or four times. Ramon is getting a lot of attention.”
There may be some MLS scouts for Saturday’s first men’s college soccer match at Bonney Field, home of Republic FC.
Last spring, Martin del Campo helped lead the Aggies to a 1-0 exhibition upset of the eventual USL Pro championship team.
“I got to mark Justin Braun and Thomas Stewart,” Martin del Campo said. “That was lots of fun. We beat them, but we’ve got to keep that in perspective. They were just starting their season. If we played them now, it would be a much different game. But, hey, we can always say we have that 1-0 shutout.”
Martin del Campo has been to a handful of Republic FC matches at Bonney Field, so he’s looking forward to stepping on the team’s home pitch.
“What could be better than having the ambiance of a professional stadium, under the lights, against a rival team with beautiful grass and exciting fans?” Martin del Campo said. “That’s a dream come true.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.