The first thing Johan Garibay will tell you is that he is from Stockton, California. Sure, he’s proud of being the starting goalie on Gonzaga University’s men’s soccer team, and yes, it’s a feat to balance Division I athletics with a credit-heavy human physiology major, but Garibay holds the most love in his heart for the town he grew up in and represents with honor both on and off the field.
“I’m really proud of that, of my city ... Not a lot of people go on to play collegiate sports from Stockton," Garibay said. "I would think I kind of have a chip on my shoulder to put my city on the map and have pride in where I’m from. Straight up, off the bat. Stockton, California.”
It was his standout soccer skills in Stockton that led Garibay to GU. He spent his freshman and sophomore years of high school playing for Lincoln High School, winning awards like Goalkeeper of the Year for the Tri-City Athletic League. His junior and senior seasons were dedicated to playing academy soccer for a youth team associated with the Sacramento Republic, a professional soccer team.
This commitment gave him the opportunity to travel and play soccer at a high level, and led to GU recruiting Garibay as a goalie. However, it wasn’t just GU that chose Garibay. Garibay chose GU. He’d never heard of the school before he was recruited by the Zags, but after his unofficial visit, he knew. The people he met, even in the short time frame of his visit, made an impact on him, and the opportunity to play Division I sports was something he couldn’t turn down.
“The community feel between the whole campus was just what convinced me to come here," he said.
Garibay was forced to redshirt his freshman season because of a broken leg, but it didn’t stop him from practicing and forming deep connections with his team. He met players that would become his best friends.
In almost every moment that isn’t spent on soccer games and practices or rigorous human physiology studies, Garibay can be found hanging out with his friends on the team, on the river, or the lake at Coeur d’Alene.
It was one of these friends, Sam Turner, a defender on the soccer team, who carpooled with Garibay up to GU for the start of soccer season this year. Both athletes live in California and took the 13 hour drive to Spokane together. They hotly debated learning a new language, but couldn’t choose between Russian and Mandarin. Instead, Garibay and Turner compromised and listened to the entire "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" audiobook.
Turner describes Garibay as a goofy guy with a great sense of humor, someone who loves to mess around.
“He’s tall, he’s above 6 foot, he’s got a good amount of swipes at the COG,” Turner said of Garibay, through spurts of laughter.
While the men’s soccer season hasn't been ideal, Garibay brings that trademark good attitude, as well as a healthy amount of determination, to every practice and game.
“We need short term memory and focusing on the positive, just one step at a time.” Garibay said.
The team is already looking forward to conference play, and plans on using every game until then to continue to improve and focus on the positives. Garibay, too, is hyper-focused on the next few games.
“I try to set personal goals for myself, but my priority right now is doing my best to help the team win games ... My No. 1 thing is getting those team wins," he said.
He is also in the unique position of playing goalie, a job he described as “an individual position in a team sport.”
Seeing their team score goals is the reason spectators come to soccer games, and Garibay is the lone man standing in the way of that. A massive amount of individual responsibility falls on his shoulders.
“Who would sign up for that kind of job?” Garibay joked.
So far, he has proven he has the mental toughness needed to be the last line of defense between ball and net. He overcame his freshman year leg injury and moved from redshirt practice player to starting goalie, but off the field, his academic work takes just as much rigorous discipline. Garibay is one of only two human physiology majors of the 28 players on the men’s soccer team, so he’s used to facing pressure and hard work.
Primarily though, Garibay tries not to think about the individual pressure. He views everyone on the team as equal contributors, equally responsible for winning games. Despite being the only player on the team with a different colored jersey, Garibay wants to stay connected with all of his teammates. After all, the players, the people, the connections and the conversations, these are what he likes best.
If you see Garibay on campus, stop to have a conversation. He appreciates random acts of friendliness and the connections that can be made here. He loves to hold the door open for others and meet people.
“The friends I’ve made, the connections I’ve made with random people around campus ... that’s the No. 1 thing, is just building relationships here,” he said.