ROCK ISLAND — If you’ve seen Rudy Almanza around, chances are pretty good he had a towel by his side or a soccer ball near his foot.
The 43-year-old Rock Island native and first-year head coach of Rocky boys’ soccer has been around the game from a young age, eventually assisting both RI soccer teams for six years. He originally got a spot with the Rocky girls thanks to the school’s late coach Conan Dalton giving him the opportunity.
Almanza’s son, Isaac, a senior, is among seven players he coached all the way up from their days at the Rock Island Futbol Club, where he started coaching in its second season in 2008. Alamanza also coached his daughter, Victoria, now 20, throughout her soccer career until it was ended by injury her junior year.
But the origins of his signature towel go back to his days as a Marine, when the 1994 Rocky grad signed on to serve at age 20. Almanza developed eczema around 2000, and touching his face to itch it was a no-go, especially during boot camp.
The towel was a hygienic workaround that just stuck all the way to present day. He’s gotten teased about the towel in the hallways of RIHS, where he works security and monitors the hallways. But the towel has taken on many uses for Almanza.
He has multiple towels in rotation, but saves his customized Rocky towel gifted from the girls’ team for the conference games.
“Now that I’ve been coaching, it really helps me out as a stress reliever. It’s a security blanket,” said Almanza, who turns 44 Sept. 2. “I can squeeze it, I can hide my face, I can yell at it, I can swing it around, and everything is going to be OK. … The towel tells a lot of stories.”
If he isn’t using his towel, outdoors he’s getting touches on a soccer ball at practice or even on the sidelines as he coaches.
Almanza just ran some track in high school, but played soccer overseas for fun while in the Marine Corps. His step dad, Blaz Dominguez, played some in Mexico. Almanza’s younger brother, also named Blaz Dominguez, played at Moline.
Almanza joined the Marines in search of discipline and direction, and seeing the game of soccer played overseas deepened his connection to it. He returned in 2001.
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“There’s people out there that just live and breathe the game all the time,” he said. “Having the opportunity to be overseas watching young kids or adults playing, whether it be on concrete or dirt or wherever, it drew me deeper into it.”
He started coaching park board soccer in 2002; Almanza’s step dad was one of his first park board coaches when he was younger that helped him get into soccer.
As his passion for soccer grew as the competition rose through club soccer, he wanted to learn more and more about the game.
Almanza said being able to coach his son all the way through high school has “been a blessing”.
There is no question of familiarity with Almanza and his players, which feature plenty of chemistry.
“I know these boys really well,” he said. “They’re a good group of guys, they’re smart, they’re intelligent, they’ve got good soccer skills and they’re good teammates. They’re just really good guys.”
When Derrick Kent resigned as coach last season to move with his family, Almanza was initially timid about potentially taking on the head coaching role. His nerves were eased after time went on and he considered his familiarity with the program. He previously planned to move to Colorado after his son graduated, but getting a dream role of his altered those plans, with the blessing and support of his wife and two kids. His wife, Courtney, has also been a big part of things running smoothly at Rocky soccer and the RI Futbol Club.
The RI Futbol Club President is Kelli Bowman and Matt Ash serves as the new Director of Coaching. Almanza will still be involved with the club, though his main coaching focus is at the high school.
Now he gets to lead his alma mater, stressing respect, stamina, routine and discipline through conditioning and practice to benefit players on the field and off. The towel is a fitting symbol for the coach that stresses hard work. His 20/20s in practice consist of 20 pushups and 20 sit-ups.
“It just builds character. Not that I’m trying to turn these guys into Marines or anything, but what I got out of the Marine Corps made me who I am today and all I want to do is help others all the time,” Almanza said. “My biggest thing about coaching is telling a story to the players. If they buy into the story, anything can happen in a season.”
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