Former players can't resist the soccer pitch.
With the wind howling out of the North, hooded coaches blast commands of steam at their soccer players to run one more sprint. The goal is to make it around a triangle pattern with the top of the 18, and the two opposite corner flags as the marks. Everyone runs except the goal keepers whose task is to make sure each player rounds the mark on the outside. On this January day, Head Boys’ Soccer Coach George Turley has chosen 7 as the number of circuits that must be finished by the entire group in 45 seconds apiece. Finish and walk away. Fail and add 3 more.
“Stronger runners help slower runners, pushing everyone to cross together on time,” said Turley. “We want players who will push through the physical and mental pain to reach the fitness goal as a team and not as an individual”
If the pain of running is not enough motivation to finish on time, the presence of former players in the pack and on the sidelines, acting like coaches, makes for a dose of braggadocio to complete the “Turley Triangle.” Colin Rice (’10) and the Kelly brothers, Mills (’08), and Bowden (’10) are not afraid to test their fitness with the team, while the other alums prefer to save their game for the scrimmage.
On any given January afternoon during the first week back from break, a dozen or so former players, while still on their college vacation, bring their dreams of the glory days to the pitch to see if they still have it. During the first week of 2011, Alex Gras (’08), Stuart Dickerson (’10) Robbie Cowell (’10), Ryan Lichtarge (’10), Rob Hamel (’08), Clayton Holz (’08), Walter Schiffer (’07), Frank Mace (’10), Blake Wulfe (’10), Andrew Mintz (’10), Gabe Aguilar (’08), Chas Jhin (’10), and Mike Loya (’08) have put on their cleats to kick it around with their former team and coaches.
“We participated in all the drills but we did not have to partake in the conditioning,” said Mills Kelly. “Soccer was one of my best memories of SJS and I enjoy coming back and catching up with Coaches Ritter, Murphy, and Turley. This has slowly turned into a tradition during the winter break.”
Greg Cook (’06) is also back with the Mavericks, but his stint is not limited to a week in January. Cook has returned to coach soccer joining alums Sam Chambers (’77), Richie Mercado (’79), Craig Chambers (’81), Jim Murphy (’83), and Marty Thompson (’90).
“After traveling around the world, I decided to come back and give coaching a try,” said Cook, a three year varsity starter at goal keeper and former track and field standout at Rhodes College. Coach Cook along with Coach Murphy just led the 8th grade to a 2nd consecutive HJPC championship giving Greg a taste of victory and hopefully a desire for more when he assists the middle and high school track program this spring.
The Maverick Girls’ program headed up by Rachel Skinner has their share of returning players on the pitch. In addition to Jack Daniel (’81), Coach Skinner has two of her former players on her coaching staff. Jessica Waters played for Coach Skinner at Stephen F. Austin State University, and Ashlee Briggerman was on one of her youth teams. Now they are coaching together on the Maverick sidelines, and all three suit-up for the U-30 Houston women’s club team.
“When they were players they worked extremely hard,” said Head Varsity Girls’ coach Rachel Skinner. “Now as coaches, they bring the same passion to help our girls get to the next level.”
Briggerman, a former U of H soccer player and one of the youngest coaches on the staff, connected with Skinner in her early days of the game at age 11 when she played on Skinner’s Austin Thunder club team. “Her passion for the game and the players has remained the same from when I was a youth player until now, and she can keep up with us on our club team” said Ashley.
“Rachel gave every SFA player equal opportunity to compete and had the confidence in freshmen like me to be on her starting lineup,” said Waters. “She had high expectations for her players then just as she does now with St. John's. She helped build a great program with the Lumberjacks and led us to a conference championship. I think it has really helped me as a coach to be one of her players, a teammate, and coaching assistant.”
There are times however, when Coach Waters feels like she is still Skinner’s player when Rachel gives the Mavericks a pep talk and when the dreaded star conditioning drill appears on the practice plan.
“It’s like I am back in Nacogdoches and Coach Skinner is encouraging us to finish the circuit,” said Waters. “My muscles do a double take.”
Whether it is “Turley’s triangle” or "Skinner’s star,” the pattern is clear that players come back to the game to run, play, and coach with the coaches who instilled passion on the pitch.
Sam Chambers- Athletic News