Our Associate Head Coach, Sean Driscoll, has a special ritual before every conference game. He diligently puts together small, laminated quotes (carefully color coordinated with the colors of the opposing team we will be playing) and hands each member of our team the small strip of inspiration before kickoff. I have a ritual with these quotes. Usually I take it and read it once and then tuck it away in my left sock underneath my shinguard to keep it in place while I play. I then usually take it out at halftime, reread the message, and put it back. As many of you know by now, I love quotes and Sean’s pregame ritual is one that I (and all of my teammates) truly cherish. The quote before our semifinal game against Loyola, read: “How hard would you play today, if you knew you could not play tomorrow?” And I guess that’s where this blog really starts….
Fast-forward about 44 minutes and everything changed. It was a free kick in Loyola’s end, I honestly don’t remember why. Could have been a foul, might have been offside; either way, it was an opportunity for Loyola to drive the ball back into our half and try to spring an offensive attack. I hadn’t been having the best game up to that point. The details of the first 44 minutes are still admittedly fuzzy, but I knew I just wasn’t doing everything I needed to do to help my team win the game. I needed to give more. This free kick was a chance for me to help my team and hopefully drive the ball back into Loyola’s half and attempt one last offensive threat before halftime. I remember the kick being a bit shorter than I expected it to be and I knew that since I was goal side of my mark that I would have to try to jump a little higher so I could get my head up and over hers to hopefully get to the ball first and still have time to fall backward and avoid fouling her. What’s that saying? I guess timing really is everything.
It’s ironic that my collegiate career would end on the kind of play I’ve come to define myself by throughout my entire soccer career. Free kicks, corner kicks, goal kicks, punts, long throw-ins-- They are the plays that can dictate and change the course of a game and they involve one of my biggest roles on my team, winning balls in the air. I’m not the most physically imposing player and I don’t think my athleticism is anything all that special, but I have always seemed to have a knack for timing and a competitive nature that makes me a pretty influential ball-winner on the field. I’ve always known that going up for 50/50 challenges in the air could result in injuries, and I have certainly taken some knocks over the years, but I never thought the last time I’d wear my Fairfield uniform that it would end up covered in blood. A simple mistimed challenge on a play that I have probably done thousands of times in my life. And just like that, it was all over.
The pain I felt of sitting on the sideline completely powerless to do anything to help my team win that game is something I’m not sure I will ever really get over. How do you make sense of having everything you’ve worked your entire collegiate career for just get ripped away from you in an instant? How am I supposed to accept the fact that I didn’t get to leave everything I had out on that field and I didn’t get to battle with teammates until the very end? Why did it all end like that? These questions probably don’t have answers, but they do bring about lessons, perspectives, and personal resolutions.
One of my absolute favorite quotes of all time is the following:
"I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be honorable, to be compassionate. It is, after all, to matter: to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.”
I was given the chance to be a part of a team for 4 years and as it stands now, I technically still have 6 months left of that opportunity. The typical protocol in college soccer is that you begin your collegiate career in the fall of your freshman year and finish your career after your last game of the fall of your senior year. Maybe that’s what is normally done, but I guess I tend to do things a little outside the realm of normality. I promised myself the summer before my freshman year that despite the fact that I was an unknown, last-minute recruit with no great expectations laid out for me, that I would end my career at Fairfield knowing I had made a meaningful impact on the program. Most players might dream of All-American accolades or a national championship, but I wrote one thing on my summer workout packet that I received the summer before my first collegiate season: “MAKE AN IMPACT.” I guess you could say that at the end of it all, I wanted “to matter: to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that [I] lived and [played] at all.” I wanted to leave knowing I pushed myself and my teammates as hard as I possibly could and that I did everything I could to help myself and my teammates be the best players we could be. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m not done doing that yet. The opportunity to improve and better my teammates and myself isn’t over yet and I know in my heart that the right thing to do is to make the most out of the time I have left and fulfill the promises I made to end things here at Fairfield University the right way. Whether I will have the chance to play professionally one day remains to be seen, but right now I’m looking forward to continuing to pursue greatness this offseason with my teammates.
To be continued…
"Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible."
Breathe Battle. Believe.