By Madeline Carino
MSU Athletic Communications
Coach calls his name, it’s time. The following minutes are precious; they’re something he’s had to earn every day since first joining the program. Four years later, he reflects on how much he’s changed since he first stepped foot on the field.
“I don’t know if I’ve matured at all, if anything I might have gotten more immature as the years went on, I think I’m more clever with my jokes maybe,” said senior midfielder Jerome Cristobal.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the redshirt junior’s personality. If you were to ask any player who the team clown is, only one name would come to mind: Jerome Cristobal.
“If there was an award for that, I’d definitely win that for the four years that I was here I believe,” Cristobal said.
The Sterling Heights native is infamous for his quick-witted presence. Players can always depend on him for a joke and a laugh. He’s all about having fun, keeping it light and making people happy. His big personality plays a role in bringing the team together.
“I just like to live life to the fullest I guess, it’s kind of cliché but I do. Anytime you can laugh is the best,” said Cristobal.
But he knows when to get serious.
Cristobal doesn’t hesitate to take on opponents, often outweighing him by 30 pounds and standing a few inches taller. The laughter fades on the field. Instead it’s replaced by a fierce intensity that’s vital to play for the Spartan squad.
“I’m a whole different person when it comes to soccer,” said Cristobal. “Obviously I know when we can joke around and have fun, and when it’s time to be serious.”
Focusing primarily on defense, he plays an integral part in the Spartan secondary. He’s had to earn every minute. Redshirted as a freshman, he practiced hard to get comfortable with his new team. The following season he appeared in 20 games. In his third year, he continued to prove himself, contributing everywhere. He had an assist to a Jay Chapman in the NCAA Elite Eight game against Providence, a pivotal moment in MSU’s tournament run.
Cristobal has appeared in all 12 games this season, tallying one goal and two assists. In the home opener, he scored against Niagara in the 44th minute, propelling the Spartans to a 4-0 victory. He’s averaged 28.1 minutes for the past 12 games.
It’s the defender’s final season wearing the green and white, and he has full intentions of making it one to remember.
“I’m really just taking it day by day and enjoying myself. Anytime I can help the team out and be on the field I’m going to give it my all,” said Cristobal.
Young Cristobal had dreams of playing basketball, a sport he loved just as much as soccer. However his “Hoop Dreams” were halted when his height plateaued at 5-foot-6. From then on, he focused his efforts on the pitch.
As a senior in high school, Cristobal was one of the top 11 recruits in Michigan and ranked 45th in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer. Prior to MSU, he’s been recognized as a two-time MHSAA Division I First Team All-State player, participated on three U.S. National Teams, traveled to Bradenton, Fla. for US Soccer’s residency program and played club with Crew Academy Wolves.
It was a tough transition from being one of the top players in the state to joining a team compiled of men just as talented as he. It challenged him both physically and mentally. The Big Ten is a competitive conference, demanding high expectations from players. Every team threatens to spoil the Spartans’ chances in the tournament. One off day, and his position could be replaced with someone else.
“It’s really hard but it’s what I signed up for I guess you could say,” said Cristobal. “I wanted to go somewhere it’s going to be competitive, I know I’m being pushed everyday to my limits.”
His spot in the lineup is attributed to work ethic. A self-motivated athlete, he completes tasks to the best of his abilities. He and the rest of the team share the same aspirations: come out on top in one of the most competitive soccer leagues in the nation.
“My biggest goal for the season is to win a Big Ten title whether it’s the league or tournament… or hopefully both,” Cristobal said.
Cristobal’s team won the Big Ten Championship in 2012 defeating Michigan, 2-1, in overtime. They made it to the championship again the following year but fell short to Indiana. The Spartans are hungry for another trophy in this season’s conference tournament.
The team has been seeded in the NCAA tournament every year of Cristobal’s career. His first season they advanced to the second round (’12), then achieved back-to-back Elite Eight appearances (’13 and ‘14). They’ve been successful, but he’s ready to take it to the next level. He has high hopes for his final tournament run.
Upon graduation, Cristobal will give his legs a rest and focus on a career in supply chain. Currently, he’s working on getting a full-time position in a rotational program. He hopes to find a position near a city so he can balance his work with play.
Reflecting on his career, Cristobal couldn’t pick just one favorite moment. His highlights include any time they defeat archrival Michigan. In 2013, the Spartans won 2-0 in the last home game of the season. It was a physical game, ending with 32 fouls, four yellow cards and one red card between the teams. In the end, the Spartans proudly brought home “The Bear,” the traveling trophy given to the winning rival. The team’s two Elite Eight appearances are also moments he thinks highly of.
Now about halfway through the season, he’s trying to play game-by-game. He remembers being a freshman and thinking he had so much time to enjoy this experience. Now, he’s learned to appreciate the time he has left.
“Looking back it was just a very special journey to go these four years and meet some of my best friends,” Cristobal said. “Now, I’m realizing how special it was.”