Carlos Rohl had read his opponent’s eyes.
Read his hips, too.
Christopher Columbus High’s 16-year-old junior goalie darted to his right and batted away a Boca Raton penalty kick, giving the Explorers their first-ever state title in boys’ soccer on Feb. 15.
“It took me a couple of seconds to realize we had just won,” Carlos said, “but then I saw the whole team running at me, and I started running at them.
“The first (teammate) who got to me was Danny Del Rio. Then all the guys carried me – it was awesome. Everyone was screaming. I remember seeing the fans jumping and happy, and I saw my mom (Lynda Ocanto-Rohl) crying tears of joy.”
It was perhaps the biggest play in the history of Columbus soccer – but it wasn’t life or death.
Carlos had already experienced what real tragedy feels like. When he was 13, his father, Carlos Alfredo Rohl, suffered a ruptured aorta and spent 40 days in the hospital, eating from a straw.
“When we finally got him back home; it wasn’t a traditional situation where the dad was taking care of the son,” said Carlos, an only child who was born in Caracas, Venezuela but raised in Miami since age 5. “In many cases, I had to take care of him.”
On May 25, 2013 — three years after his father first got sick — Carlos had gone to the park to play soccer with friends. When he was done, he phoned home to ask permission to join his buddies at a restaurant.
His father answered, and Carlos sensed something wasn’t quite right with his dad’s voice. Regardless, his father gave him permission to go with his friends – never revealing the pain he was in – and said he loved him.
Carlos said: “I love you, too, Dad.”
Those would be the last words father and son would ever speak to each other. Carlos would find out later that the only reason his dad answered the phone was because his mother had run out of the house, frantically seeking help from a neighbor.
Her husband was suffering a heart attack.
By the time Carlos reached the hospital, his father couldn’t speak. Two hours later, he passed away at age 64. Rohl said he was very close to his father, in part because his dad worked from home and was around his son a lot.
“I was lucky that the last thing I told him was I loved him, and the last thing he said to anyone was that he loved me,” Carlos said. “After he first got sick, he became such a loving person. He was always happy — giving people hugs.”
Carlos, who is also a fifth-degree black belt in kung fu and has a 3.7 grade-point average, said his father was very proud of him.
“In his wallet, he kept a picture of me getting my black belt,” Carlos said, “and another one of me playing soccer.”
Carlos said he is grateful to his Columbus teammates, who immediately rallied in his support following his father’s death. They attended the funeral and checked on him frequently as he grieved.
Columbus Coach Michael Stewart said Carlos has handled his situation better than any adult could have.
“At no point did he use it as an excuse for doing anything incorrect or missing any assignments,” Stewart said. “He was very strong for his mom.
“There’s not a single kid on our team that doesn’t like Carlos.”
Carlos’s maturity showed during the soccer season, too. Due to injuries to fellow goalies Bryan Alvarez and Stephen Milian, Carlos became the starter when the season began in November and retained the job until just before the playoffs in late January.
That’s when Bryan regained his starting job and helped lead Columbus — which had never been past the regional semifinals — on a wild ride that included four straight overtime playoff wins.
But instead of sulking at returning to the bench, Carlos continued to compete in practice. In fact, Stewart noticed that Carlos and Stephen were better at stopping penalty kicks than Bryan. The coach devised a plan in which he would take turns substituting Stephen and Carlos for Bryan in overtime penalty-kick situations.
That exact scenario developed in the state final.
And even though Bryan had blanked Boca Raton – which was ranked No.1 in the state and No. 8 nationally – Stewart stuck with his plan.
“When you get to penalties, you’re so nervous,” Carlos’ mom said. “I prayed three Hail Mary’s and asked my husband to play with Carlos (in spirit). When we won the game, I was crying and jumping and giving thanks. I was so excited — I wanted to jump on the field.”
Through everything that has happened, she said, her son has been her rock.
For his part, Carlos, a Catholic, said his faith has helped him come to terms with his loss.
“I always think of him,” Carlos said of his father. “Before I go into a game, I dedicate what I do for him. I know I will do my best for him.”