When the under-11 Healdsburg Hounds boys' soccer team takes to the field this fall, they'll have many things going for them.
The squad went undefeated in its division last year and will be moving up in the Healdsburg Youth Soccer League to play tougher teams.
But off-field accomplishments in the classroom and in career development will likely help the team kick things into gear.
Much of the credit, league officials and parents say, goes to the team's two volunteer coaches, Gustavo Flores and Angel Nu?z.
For the past three years, the men have dedicated their free time to creating a program that puts good grades and parental involvement before sprints and goal kicks.
The program stems from the coaches' shared belief that success for the kids relies on effort and support on the field and off.
"Kids love this game," Flores said, "and you don't want to take that away from them. But this sport is only a blip on the radar when it comes to life. You want to use it to instill the value of education, the value of becoming a good citizen."
Flores, a Santa Rosa resident and director of admissions at Sonoma State University, grew up with the game and played for California State University, Stanislaus.
Nu?z, a Healdsburg accountant, Sacramento State alumnus and lifelong baseball player, met Flores by chance when their sons played on the same team five years ago.
They got to talking about something that bothered them.