May 26, 2014 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff WriterErly Cornejo, the youngest and one of the most successful head coaches in Riverton High School boys sports history, has resigned his position as head coach of the RHS boys soccer team.
Cornejo led the Wolverines for seven seasons, qualified for the Class 4-A state tournament for the past six consecutive seasons, and this year won his third regular season Class 4-A West soccer title.
As head coach, Cornejo has registered seven state tournament wins, one state third-place finish, and two state consolation titles.
Cornejo has accepted the assistant coaching position at Warner Pacific College, an urban Christian liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon.
"I've always wanted to coach college. It has been a dream of mine, and this is a crazy opportunity. The college game is hard to get into. I feel like I have lucked out and feel like it is by God's grace that I have been given this opportunity," Cornejo said.
Cornejo began working on selective coaching certifications through the National Soccer Coaches of America six years ago and last winter competed his advanced national coaching certification.
"A lot of what I wanted to get done was because I wanted to bring my best to this (RHS) season potentially knowing it may have been my last and that we have a talented team. They deserved the best I could give them," Cornejo said.
After working for one season as an assistant coach, Cornejo, a 2003 graduate of RHS, was hired to lead the squad in the spring of 2008.
"I credit Kyle Blumenshine and Brady Samuelson for their leadership, and it never quit from there. We have had crazy good leaders who believed in what I was trying to do. They didn't have to, but as soon as they came in, they dove in and gave everything to me, for me, and that was contagious as well," Cornejo said, adding that Colton Pollard, Braxton Hamilton, Cody Blumenshine, Jarrett Watson, Johnny Reddon, Joey Wolpert and Tristan White also excelled as leaders for his teams.
"I was best man at (former player) Trevor Dooley's wedding. I have been so blessed, seeing all these kids graduate and be successful," Cornejo said.
Cornejo says the game has evolved and is more tactical and less physical than it was when he played at RHS and at Simpson College.
"That is the first thing I wanted to come in and do, to get the tactics right. You don't have to be good to be disciplined and defensively organized.
"That was the first step coming in. Let's get organized, learn how to rotate as a team and play 1 v. 1 defense, and then we were able to build from there. We have had some great offensive seasons, this being one of them."
In order to get to the next level -- a state high school soccer championship -- Cornejo believes that Riverton teams must play more in the off season. Riverton has never won a state title in soccer.
Credit to Bauder
Cornejo credits former Riverton High School activities director Keith Bauder for much of his success and his willingness to hire an eager 20-year-old coach.
"I applied, and he took a risk. I am so thankful for that. That must have been tough. These guys were only two years younger than me. To find that balance, I think we have done a really good job of that.
" I still remember the first time we went to state. It was the band and kids getting out of school. Now it's just moms. Now it is kind of expected," Cornejo said.
Cornejo is quick to recognize the coaches (all RHS graduates) he has worked with while leading the Wolverines, both paid and volunteers.
"Our coaches have been awesome. (Assistant coach) Aziz Waheed and I have gotten to the point where we are thinking on the same page. At first he was quiet. What I was brining to the table was different from they way we played."
Cornejo and wife Makayla have three children.
"I am very thankful for her for understanding that this is what I want to do. It is hard for her. I don't show up for practice and then go home and not worry about it.
"I probably spend more time doing soccer things than I should. She has been absolutely supportive, and that has been awesome," Cornejo said.
At Warner Pacific, Cornejo will coach under former pro player and longtime Knights head coach Bernie Fagan.
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