From soccer player to Spanish professor
When former Belmont men’s soccer player Dr. Paulo Boero was told that his assist record was finally broken after almost twenty years, he first had to be reminded what record it was that he had held in the first place.
Before working at Belmont as a Spanish professor, Boero received his undergraduate degree within the honors program in history and French while making his own history in the newly created soccer program.
Boero made the record books during the 1993 season with his single-season 8 assists, which held until Nico Olsak tied the record in both his freshman and sophomore seasons in 2010 and 2011. His record of 20 points in a single season is still on the charts at seventh since the program’s beginning in 1991.
His overall career assists of 16 from 1992 to 1995 was only broken by Olsak who had 22 during his four year stint with the Bruins.
Boero’s soccer experience, however, started years before he ever lived in Nashville.
He cites his first memory of soccer as being given a tiny soccer kit, including a jersey and shorts with a white No. 5 on it.
While living in Argentina, Boero played quite a bit of unorganized soccer and believes that is what gave him the advantage after moving to Nashville.
“I think that was key. That’s where you get your technique, your touches, your confidence. You associate the game with fun, not with rules or parents yelling at you,” said Boero. “You do what you want; no one tells you how you should move in the field, there’s no positions, you play when you want to, or when you don’t want to and your friends make you.”
Boero took a detour into organized basketball before joining a soccer travel team coached by Dr. Ronnie Littlejohn, a Belmont professor, while still playing some unorganized soccer on the side.
“I was very late,” said Boero, who started the travel team in high school. “I played rec soccer here for fun and I would whoop everyone.”
Between various travel teams and high school soccer, Boero played quite a few positions on the field, proving to be a versatile player.
After high school, he was scouted by Belmont and Vanderbilt, but thanks to a financial package, Boero joined the Bruins at center midfield through his freshman and sophomore year.
Early on in the program, Boero began to make a name for himself.
“I set most of those records my freshman and sophomore year. I was abroad my junior year and that really hurt me,” he said. “I remember feeling good … I was at a really good place at the end of my sophomore season.”
Junior year, Boero studied abroad in France, returning to a different program.
“When I came back for my senior season, we had a different coach, a bunch of different players … that was a very difficult year,” said Boero.
That year, Belmont made two significant changes within its athletic programs: a shift from the NAIA to the NCAA and a mascot change from the Rebels to the Bruins.
These changes, combined with other things, hurt Boero’s experience with the team.
“I was also mentally ready to move on,” he said. “I was struggling with a condition that would later be diagnosed as spinal stenosis. I have a narrowing of my spine in my lower back. I remember struggling a lot with numbness in my left foot, but I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
The separation from the team for that year took its toll on Boero and changed his relationship with soccer from then on, though he did spend some time playing with the Nashville Metros, a semi-professional team.
“I think it was a confidence issue,” said Boero. “I just wasn’t comfortable … I think that year away definitely hurt … I have no regrets about going to France, but my career basically ended my sophomore year.”
Sophomore year was the year Boero set records that stayed until Olsak’s freshman and sophomore seasons.
However, Olsak never really knew he was on track to break a longstanding record.
“I did not even know Boero had played soccer for Belmont, or even further, that he held the assist record … I had no idea about it,” said Olsak. “It is truly ironic that an Argentinian broke another Argentinian’s record.”
Boero had nothing but positive things to say about the new record holder, though he still wasn’t entirely clear on who had kept notes on his assists and points to even put him on any kind of list.
“They have very good players; I don’t know why it’s taken so long,” he said, offering congratulations to Olsak. “It’s a good player to have, if someone’s going to break it, that’s good.”
Even though Olsak didn’t have much interaction with Boero except for the occasional conversation in Spanish about soccer on campus, he knew it was a big deal.
“When I found out I had broken the record, I was extremely overwhelmed and proud of myself,” he said. “At the same time, I was thankful for all the teammates I had throughout the years that made the record possible … holding that record is definitely one of my biggest accomplishments during my time at Belmont.”
Despite having the opportunity to create celebrity status on campus, many of Boero’s students have no idea just how far his achievements on the field reach.
“I knew that Professor Boero had attended Belmont and that he was a soccer player for the university, but I had absolutely no clue about his soccer legacy,” said Catherine Duran, a student in one of Boero’s Spanish classes. “It wasn’t until recently that I heard about all of his tremendous soccer achievements and his celebrity status.”
Boero’s students are more apt to know him as a Spanish professor who “inspires his students to expand their creative expression and knowledge of the Spanish language, and he runs a classroom where academic excellence is sought after daily,” said Duran.
Since returning to Belmont as a professor, Boero has not kept up with actively playing soccer, due to his responsibilities both as a professor and a father.
Instead, three of his four children currently play the sport, and his youngest is soon to start. Boero initially coached his children’s teams, but now plays a main role as supporter.
“They’re not soccer stars, but they are playing and having fun,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to watch when a team comes together.”