ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – You often hear the word resilience echo across the fabric of sports, but seldom will you encounter an athlete who elevates the term.
That’s the case for Tampa Bay Rowdies’ left back Zac Portillos, who refused to allow a pair of serious injuries curtail his professional playing career.
After rupturing both of his Achilles tendons – approximately one-year apart- the Aurora, Colo., native endured a difficult plight, one that would have his patience and mental toughness tested to new boundaries.
“Life is crazy,” said Portillos, following a practice on Thursday at the Rowdies’ practice field nestled inside the heart of St. Petersburg. “ I went from my highest of highs to back-to-back lowest of lows. I put in all the hard work and I did rehab, and then I come back again and I do it again.
“It makes you question a lot of things about your choices and what you want to do.”
During a dark period of uncertainty, Portillos relied on his teammates and coaching staff to help ease him through an arduous transition period, something the 5-foot-9 defender is all too appreciative of.
“My support system and the Rowdies have been great,” he said. “Everyone just kept telling me to be positive and push through it. Now that I’m back and I’m doing it, I feel like it was the right choice and I feel like I’m happy that I pushed through it.”
After a year at the University of Washington in 2010, where he was named the team’s Rookie of the Year, Portillos would transfer to the University of Akron and spend the rest of his collegiate career with the Zips.
Not expecting to play soccer at the professional level, the former high school Colorado State Player of the Year took advantage of an invite-only combine with the Tampa Bay-based club, impressing the coaching staff enough to eventually earn himself a contract.
Rowdies’ officials believe the 25-year old carries a unique sense of doggedness, and for Portillos, it’s something that he credits to his disposition.
“I’m more of a mental player and I just try to bring the fight everyday,” he said.
“You won’t catch me out here relaxed or taking a day off.”