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Freshman soccer player Eloi Vasquez remembered for positive presence by friends, family

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After losing his grandfather in middle school, Eloi Vasquez would raise his pointer fingers to the sky after scoring a goal in a soccer game and say, “That’s for you, Papa.” Now, after the UC Berkeley freshman’s death, his two younger brothers — who are both soccer players — will do the same for their beloved brother.

“That’s for you, Eloi.”

Vasquez, 19, died early Saturday morning after being hit by a car as he was trying to cross Interstate 10. He had been seen that night at the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at USC, where he was visiting friends for spring break. He told his friends he wanted to go see the beach and later called a friend to say he was lost. His death was confirmed Monday by the Los Angeles coroner’s officials.

A midfielder on the UC Berkeley soccer team, Vasquez played in 12 games as a freshman, had three assists and earned a reputation as one of the team’s hardest workers. And according to Cal head coach Kevin Grimes, Vasquez would have reached his dream of playing soccer professionally.

“The guys are grieving pretty hard right now,” Grimes said at a press conference Monday. “We’re just looking to get through this. I just really loved Eloi.”

Senior goalkeeper Alex Mangels said at Monday’s press conference that Vasquez was always looking out for the team and knew how to put a smile on someone’s face.

“Although sometimes he was soft-spoken, Eloi always had a way,” Mangels said, his voice cracking. He paused for a few seconds. “He always had a way of making you laugh, and he brought energy to the room every time he was with us. He meant a lot to us.”

Eric Yamamoto, Vasquez’s former coach on the U-18 DeAnza Force academy team, remembered Vasquez’s dedication to the game, especially since he had to to spend an hour in the car just to get to and from practices, which were five or six times a week. But he kept a positive demeanor, and his love of the game shone.

“He was the guy everyone really enjoyed being around; he was the guy who got along with everyone. And when things weren’t going well, he would just put his head down and work harder.”

A close friend from high school, Nick Watkins, said that after soccer practice, the two would have “midweek sleepovers” where the two would hang out and watch a movie. “He truly cherished every relationship that he held with someone and made them feel so special.”

Watkins said that during senior year at the “After-Prom,” when everyone else started going to bed around 3 a.m., Vasquez raised the volume on the speakers and started playing the same song — “Loyal” by Chris Brown — over and over until everyone woke up for breakfast.

“Eloi brought the fun and party to anything and everything,” Watkins said, “He never let anyone at the party not have a fun time. … He was literally always having the best time of his life and experiencing life in the best way possible. It was truly a blessing to see every day.”

When Vasquez’s mother, Wendy Margolin, went through a tough time with depression, “he was my teacher,” Margolin said. “As a parent you’re supposed to teach them, but he was the one who taught me. He was the one who gave me advice. He was always there for me.”

While the family never had much money, Margolin said her son would never ask for much and tried to be resourceful and work other jobs to support himself. He would just keep his positive attitude about life, laugh and go through every day with a huge smile on this face. And soccer made him happy — his first word was “ball” — and he wanted to use his soccer career to get a great education and succeed in business.

Vasquez’s grandmother Bonnie Margolin said her grandson was a phenomenal listener and speculated that he’d have made a great psychiatrist.

“[His friends] would tell him, ‘You just make the world so much easier, you always make me feel better,’ ” Bonnie said.

Bonnie remembered a time when Vasquez was playing with building blocks — he thought he had them set up perfectly, and all of a sudden someone knocked them down, leaving him puzzled and angry.

“That’s how it feels right now,” Bonnie said through choked back tears. “Building everything up, only to have it knocked down in seconds. … A little bit of you is just gone.”

She said she’ll remember how he was always misplacing his keys and phone, how he kept insisting that she try one of his health smoothies and how he loved his brothers. He encouraged his 16-year-old brother, Julian, to keep working hard in school and Skyped his 12-year-old brother, Adrian, during Barcelona soccer games where they screamed and cheered.

She’ll remember his smile and take a bit of comfort from the fact that, when his brothers and friends score goals, they may point to the sky and say quietly, “That’s for you, Eloi.”

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Story originally appeared in The Daily Californian.

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