Building a successful soccer program is like putting together a puzzle. But instead of being given the pieces in advance, a coach and his staff must search far wide to find players that fit the picture that they want to create. The App State men’s soccer coaching staff have done an excellent job in the past at bringing in talented players, and are continuing this trend as they recently announced their 2018 class.
After already signing 10 players for the upcoming season they still are not done yet, and are preparing to bring in a diverse class with an international perspective, winning experience and strong character.
Head coach Jason O’Keefe has had tremendous success in recruiting at previous national powerhouses such as Wake Forest, St. Louis and most recently, UNC-Chapel Hill, where he signed the No. 1 ranked class in 2016.
“It’s the bloodline of any program that’s successful. Outside of developing the current players, it’s probably the next most important thing to do,” O’Keefe said. “First and foremost we’re looking for talent, and what we’ve been looking for are guys who come from a winning environment or gone and created a winning environment wherever they were at.”
The coaching staff is not too shy when it comes to recruiting international players, with seven players on the current roster listed as coming from countries outside of the United States. Their latest international recruit, Charlie Baird, is a forward hailing from
“The experience they have is a little bit different coming from overseas. It adds a perspective that our kids from America aren’t used to and it blends different cultures, and I think that builds the team’s chemistry,” O’Keefe said.
O’Keefe also emphasizes signing and developing local talent as well. North Carolina is one of the best states to be in to play college soccer, which is mostly due to the the high amount of talent in areas such as the Triangle, Charlotte and the Greensboro area.
Six out of the 10 newly signed recruits are from North Carolina, with several of them playing youth soccer either together or against one other at some point in their early careers. They are also more than likely connected with current roster members as well.
“I’ve got a lot of great connections in North Carolina, and I’ve had a lot of success as well. In North Carolina, a lot of kids growing up in the state know the landscape of colleges in the state,” O’Keefe said. “I like to think 50 percent of our roster is from North Carolina at all times.”
Even though skill and location are both important factors for O’Keefe while attempting to build recruiting classes, it is instead character that is most important; this is evident with his current roster members.
He will look to seniors like defender Felix Kollmanthaller and midfielder Ian Bennett to help the younger players adjust to college soccer, and is confident in their ability to be strong role models for their younger teammates.
“Felix and Ice (Bennett) are rising seniors and they’re both pillars in the community. They lead by example and I think it’s going to be easy for them to transition,” O’Keefe said. “This spring we’re focusing on the gap between our sophomores and those guys.”
Even though the 2018 team may be younger than previous App State teams, they are still poised to have an exciting season and are preparing to build a strong foundation for the next four years they are in Boone, as well as usher in a new class of young, talented players to ensure that the program’s success continues to increase.
Story By: Zack Antrum, Sports Reporter
Photo By: Courtesy of UNC Athletics