Sometimes a team is all about success, but more often than not, that success is built from a foundation. That’s certainly the case for Benjamin Russell’s boys soccer team.
With seven seniors on the roster, the Wildcats became a close-knit group led by those seven.
“It wasn’t just about the seniors but it started with that senior group,” BRHS coach Austin Teel said. “They brought chemistry with how close they were on and off the field. It made us gel as a whole team. That’s what I really enjoyed watching them throughout this whole year. There was constant encouragement of every single person both in the weight room and onto the field. They always had each other’s backs.”
Those seniors also played vastly different roles and that made the team find a lot of success throughout their careers.
Lucan Yates was a three-year starter and became a go-to scorer, especially after the graduation of Luke Harvey the year prior.
“He was that guy that if we needed a goal, we could get it to him and he would get it to the back of the net,” Teel said. “His leadership showed on the field, and he was always a great go-to player.”
Yates will continue his soccer career at the next level in Georgia.
Many of the other BRHS seniors were multi-sport athletes and their talents at other sports carried onto the soccer field. Lane Rigby, for instance, was always dedicated to the pitch despite also being a Wildcat football starter.
Rigby suffered a broken leg just before the football season, which caused him to miss his entire senior year on the gridiron. But there wasn’t a second when Rigby thought it would keep him from playing soccer.
“He came straight to me and said he was going to do whatever he had to to get back to soccer,” Teel said. “He brought what you want as a player; he brought that soul to a team. It showed in his effort of never giving up, and he would run through a brick wall for you.”
Like Rigby, who is headed to the Navy next year, David Thames was another player who participated in multiple sports. Thames came to the soccer team just after the basketball season ended and played right wing for the Wildcats. The specialty for Thames was being the player to take free kicks and corner kids.
“He wanted to be that guy to put the ball where it needed to be,” Teel said. “He worked hard to get his way back into the full fitness after overcoming a lot of adversity to get back. I’m so glad he got to be at full speed this year.”
Thames suffered a long illness and was out his entire sophomore year before returning to the squad. He is heading to Auburn University to continue his education.
Rigby was joined by Andrew Caldwell as the team captains. For a few years, Caldwell played virtually every position on the field, including goalkeeper, so when he took over the center back role this season, it worked out well. Not only was he a vocal leader on the backline, he also knew how to tell other players where to be because he had played in all their positions.
“When I talk about that chemistry, Andrew really set that,” Teel said. “He made sure everyone was always involved no matter what position they played or if they were coming off the bench. He’s a captain that everyone wants but also is a great kid.”
Caldwell, along with Rigby and Zack Salter, were members of the first Esports team at Benjamin Russell. Salter split time with Thames throughout the year at right wing.
“Zack never backed down from anybody,” Teel said. “You’re always going to get the best from Zack; he was always going to fight you tooth and nail to the end of it. He scored a lot of big goals for us this year — goals we needed throughout those games.”
With the season cut short due to the coronavirus, the final two seniors were likely some of the worst affected because they had finally worked their way into big contributing roles after playing behind others.
“Ethan (Martin) has always been a great player but he always had a guy in front of him,” Teel said. “He’s waited his turn and when he got his chance, I knew he was going to take advantage of it. He really excelled and was really coming along and solidifying that center mid role.”
Similar to Martin, Malik Bishop also worked his way into a big role this season. One of Teel’s best — or at least funniest — memories of Bishop was when he shot a ball during practice so hard, he actually gave Teel a concussion.
“You never wanted to get in front of the ball if he was shooting because he had an excellent shot,” Teel said. “It was his time to shine and he did. He’s another guy that showed a lot of leadership out on that field.”
In addition to the chemistry the Wildcats showed, Teel also prided himself on how well his players competed in the classroom. He said they were always trying to be top of their class — Caldwell was actually named BRHS’ salutatorian — and Teel made sure those seniors kept their academics as a top priority.