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Chico State

Inspired by his Parents, Fontanelli Plays with Passion and Purpose

Adrian Fontanelli poses for a portrait with a soccer ball between his left arm and hip.
Jason Halley/University Photographer

Adrian Fontanelli squeezes every ounce out of every moment, on and off the pitch.  His dedication and focus is a tribute to his parents.

“My work ethic comes from them,” said the Chico State men’s soccer team’s senior captain. “They worked for everything they got. From the time I was little, I saw the example they set. I tell myself to work hard every day so that when I lay down, I feel tired.”

Carlos and Marcela came to California from Mexico when they were 15 and started a family five years later. Their influence has extended even further than their children, to Adrian’s teammates, through his example.

“Guys try to emulate him because they see his pride, joy, and passion,” Head Coach Felipe Restrepo said. “He’s everything you want from your best player. He’s an extremely hard worker, super competitive, positive in the face of adversity, and a genuinely kind person.”

Because Fontanelli has earned the attention of professional scouts, the two-time All-West Region performer is on the precipice of realizing his lifelong dream of playing professionally. That prospect is especially sweet due to his authentic love of soccer.

“When he’s out there he’s free. You can see the passion pour out of him.”

Chico State Men’s Soccer Coach Felipe Restrepo

“When he’s out there he’s free,” Restrepo said. “You can see the passion pour out of him. Someday he’s going to lead an over-60 league in scoring.”

Before that, he’s playing his senior season this fall and his parents will see him graduate in May with a degree in psychology and minor in coaching.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for my whole family,” Fontanelli said. “That’s going to be a good day.”

Fontanelli wasn’t sure he wanted to continue playing soccer following his freshman year at Santa Rosa Junior College. He was burnt out after spending many years focused on the game. But right away, his experience with the Chico State program rekindled his love for the sport.

“Right away, being around the team and competing with these guys made me really fall in love with soccer again. This has been the best experience I’ve had in soccer,” Fontanelli said. “This team is so caring, the competition is fierce, and the community and everyone I interact with at the University have made it a great experience.”

As a first-year player, he was assigned to live with Juan Perez, someone who had already spent two years in the program. Perez graciously and generously passed along important knowledge that Fontanelli now loves to share with the first-year players he is assigned to look after.

“I was clueless. I didn’t know how to cook. I didn’t know how to do laundry. I didn’t really know how to do anything,” Fontanelli said through laughter. “It took me about a week, but I finally gathered the courage to ask Juan for help. He didn’t judge me, and he assured me that I could ask him for help with anything I needed. From there, I was off and running.”

Matching veterans with first-year players is a part of Restrepo’s passion to see first-generation college students thrive in his program. Fontanelli, who says he was at best an average student during high school, proudly points out that he’s been on the dean’s list during every year of college.

“The data says that students transitioning to college, particularly students of color, tend to be more successful when they find supportive relationships and a good support network early on,” said Restrepo, who earned his doctorate in social organization and educational policy from UC Davis in 2014. “You try to tie up all the loose ends in terms of the science of it, but it’s also up to the individual to be eager to succeed.”

Chico State men's soccer player Adrian Fontanelli plants his left cleat as he prepares to take a free kick with his right.
Photo by Aaron Draper/Chico State Athletics

Fontanelli feels the support from Restrepo, his teammates, folks at the University, and even out in the community. One of his favorite things about competing for Chico State is the community support.

“People will stop me downtown because they recognize me from the team. That’s a special feeling,” said Fontanelli.

He has always stood out, and not just for his soccer skills. When Fontanelli was 6 years old, he was the fastest kid on the team and had highlights in his hair. His coach told him he looked like Pikachu from the Pokémon franchise. The name has morphed through the years, and today his teammates and coaches call him Pica.

Restrepo says the name signifies a bee sting (picadura can be translated to bee sting in Spanish). He explains that though Fontanelli is on the smaller side, he can cause real pain to the opposition with his quick-strike capabilities.

“It’s hard not to root for him. He’s about 5‘6’’, but he plays like he’s 8 feet,” Restrepo said. “His skill level is as high as I’ve seen in terms of calmness on the ball and anticipating where the game is going. Our opponents are always focused on stopping him, but he always stays two moves ahead of them.”

Fontanelli’s growth as a person is equally impressive to Restrepo.

“He’s been one of the highlights of my career. It’s going to be sad to see him go, but I’m so proud of him. He’s an awesome human being. He cares about the people around him. He’s a community guy and he loves to help train youth teams and visit the schools when we have that opportunity,” said Restrepo.

“When you get around his family, you see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. They’re wonderful, and they’ve raised a wonderful young man.”

A few weeks prior to the start of the season—the Wildcats were picked to finish No. 5 in the highly competitive California Collegiate Athletic Association after reaching the semifinals of the conference tournament last season. Fontanelli is committed to reveling in every remaining moment of his collegiate career.

“I want to work hard and have fun and make sure I don’t have any regrets when it’s all over,” he said at the start of the season.

It’s gone swimmingly so far. The Wildcats are ranked No. 3 in the nation at 9-0-2, they’ve outscored their opponents 23-4, and Fontanelli leads the team and ranks second in the CCAA with six assists. They’ll be home Sunday to take on Cal Poly Humboldt at 2 p.m. (the women’s match will kickoff at 11:30 a.m.)