It’s been Nico Padilla’s lifelong dream to play for a Colombian national team — any team — since he was a kid.
That dream will come true when he travels to Israel for the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships as a member of the Colombia national team in July.
Padilla, 20, is a product of Samuel Ogle Middle School and Bowie High School, where he helped the Bulldogs win the inaugural Prince George’s County varsity lacrosse championship.
He moved to the United States when he was 2 with his mother, Aiyshen, who works in marketing and communications, and his father, Hernan, who teaches middle school in Washington, D.C. Padilla has two younger siblings: Donovan, 15, and Olivia, 14.
Basketball, soccer and hockey were his primary sports growing up. It wasn’t until he was a little older when he realized his skill with lacrosse.
“I always had a stick, and my little brother and I always played every sport, so we knew the basics,” Padilla said. “(Eventually) I realized, like, wow, I could really run away with this.”
Lacrosse wasn’t always a varsity option at Bowie. The county as a whole didn’t add the sport until 2016, Padilla’s senior year.
“My freshman year was just club (teams), like PG Pride (Lacrosse),” Padilla said. “But then it turned into me just being a good lacrosse player and wanting to play in high school and compete for a championship … I was speechless to find out (Bowie) was moving on to a varsity sport.”
Eleanor Roosevelt, which has long had a competitive team that competes against other varsity programs, was an obvious rival in the inaugural season. After absorbing a regular-season loss to Roosevelt, the Bulldogs faced off against the Raiders for the championship and won, 15-14. Padilla scored five goals and notched four assists in the contest.
“I remember at the beginning of the season, it was looking rough, like really rough,” Padilla recalled. “I didn’t think we could’ve gotten 20 passes together on a man-up. But then to see us progress and as the coaching completely excelled — and coach (Rick) Perry was a phenomenal coach — as soon as he got us into gear and got us locked in, after that it was history.”
Padilla gave a lot of credit to Perry, a former assistant who now heads the boys team, and coach Kevin Bayly, the former boys coach who now heads the girls team.
“Those two coaches together are like peanut butter and jelly, if that’s not weird,” Padilla laughed. “I say this with love when I’m talking about coach Perry, but he is a hothead and if you turn him the wrong way he will completely flip on you. But it’s (good coaching) because if he doesn’t do that, you will not know what to do and you’ll keep doing the wrong thing.
“With coach Bayly, he’s usually (quiet) and if he sees something, he’ll come in and correct it. Coach Perry was the one always saying, ‘Nico, you better get that ground ball! I don’t want to see you miss the cage! None of that!’ ”
Perry, who has had a chance to watch Padilla play in college, had nothing but praise for the former varsity captain.
“Nico was a hard worker when he was playing with me,” Perry said. “I expect bigger things from him. He’s had a chance to play with some really good guys in Colombia. He’s just a big player. If you give him a challenge, he is going to be there.”
Padilla just finished his freshman season with Community College of Baltimore County-Catonsville, playing midfield. He was recruited for lacrosse, soccer and ice hockey out of high school, including at least one Division I college in each sport. He played all three at Bowie.
Soccer has long been Padilla’s primary sport, but he’s planning to “hang up the boots and pick up the stick” in college. He’s currently exploring opportunities to transfer to Hood, Chowan (North Carolina) or Hampton (Virginia), which has a Division I program.
“I got the stats that will get my foot in the door,” Padilla said. “So all I have to do is finish the process, open the door and walk through it.”
Padilla ended up on the Colombian national team through his own efforts. After discovering the women’s national team on social media, he tracked down a coach. After a couple attempts, he was able to establish the connection that ultimately took him down to Bogota for a tryout in March.
Padilla said his teammates and coaches were immediately accommodating.
“I think that just had something to do with being Colombian,” Padilla said. “Because who we are is always loving and welcoming, just always thinking of our family orientation and stuff like that.”
Padilla will depart for Colombia to prepare with his teammates in late June. They will make the flight to Israel a couple weeks later.
While it’s certainly a remarkable individual achievement, Padilla said he didn’t get there alone.
“I just want to say thank you to my mother and my father for supporting me financially and mentally through this whole process,” Padilla said. “Thank you to coach Perry and coach Bayly and everybody who’s been pushing me through this whole process.”