ATWATER — Manuel Villegas isn't afraid of the moment.
In fact, the Atwater senior midfielder relishes it.
So with the Falcons' season and playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Villegas wasn't about to leave a penalty kick to anyone else. Atwater trailed rival Buhach Colony 1-0 in the second half, needing a win to secure the Central California Conference's third and final playoff spot.
"We had a penalty kick tournament the day before at practice that I missed," said Villegas, the Sun-Star's Boys Soccer Player of the Year. "Adalberto (Guzman) was supposed to take the kick.
"I told him that I wanted it and that I wasn't going to miss."
Villegas buried the PK to level things at 1-1 and Tito Garabay kicked in the game-winner in the last five minutes to extend the Falcons' season.
"That win has to be one of my most memorable ever," Villegas said. "We knew we had to win, and the way we came together to get it done was awesome."
Villegas' willingness to put the team on his shoulders in big moments is exactly what a young Falcons squad needed.
Blessed with a winger's pace and endurance, Villegas gave up some of his goal-scoring opportunities to assume the role of playmaker.
Like a company switchboard, the Atwater attack ran through him.
Dishing assists more proficiently than Lakers point guard Steve Nash, Villegas won the CCC's assist title by a convincing margin and was named the Offensive Player of the Year.
"Everyone knew that he was, if not our No. 1 option, at least one of our top options in building up the attack," Atwater coach Jimmy Brewer said. "He's always had good technical skill and the ability to take people on. As he's gotten older, he's added some real speed to give defenses a lot to think about.
"He probably sacrificed some goals this year, but the way he created for his teammates really made us a better team."
The CCC wasn't the only ones to recognize Villegas' talent. He left for Mexico last week to join Mexico Primera Division Club Atlas de Guadalajara. Villegas is looking to sign a contract with the club's second team and eventually play his way onto the Primera Division first team.
"I grew up playing for Merced Atlas, so I always pretended like I already was a pro with the Atlas on my chest," Villegas said. "Now it's really going to happen.
"They're in between seasons right now, so I'm going to go down and train with the team. If I like the contract they offer me, I'm going to make a go at it.
"If it doesn't work out, I still have the option of going and playing in college and maybe trying to make it into the MLS.
"Soccer has always been my sport, so I'm excited to see where it takes me."