By Kyle LoJacono
Keith Fulk took over the men’s soccer program at Saint Leo University (SLU) less than two months ago, and the squad has not missed a beat.
The Lions are 5-3, with one loss to No. 1 ranked Rollins College 2-1 in double overtime. Fulk said he knew SLU had talent when he watched the team play a pair of exhibitions during the summer.
“When the opportunity came I was very excited to get back to collegiate soccer and excited to work with our athletic director Mr. (Francis) Reidy, but the icing on the cake was I saw these kids, and they are very talented,” Fulk said. “I respect what Joel (Harrison) did here getting a lot of talented soccer players. I’m very excited to get the chance to mold them.”
Fulk replaces Harrison, who resigned in May, citing “exciting changes taking place in (his) personal life.” Harrison was 69-40-6 in seven years with the Lions, including a 9-6 record last season.
Fulk is no stranger to collegiate soccer, as he guided West Virginia to the 2001 NCAA Division I men’s national championship.
He left the college ranks to join the coaching staff for the U.S. national team from 2002-10, coaching in four youth World Cups. Fulk spent the last nine months with IMG Academy in Sarasota.
“It was a passion and a dream to be part of representing your country,” Fulk said. “The main thing I missed about college soccer is you have young men for four years. You can really mold their lives.”
The Lions’ fast start has earned them No. 24 status according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), but the squad does not make a habit of checking out the number that precedes SLU.
“We don’t try to look so much at the rankings,” said sophomore defender Michael Panter, a Freedom High graduate. “We just try to play the game. If we’re ranked that’s great. If we’re not we just keep playing our game.”
Most Lions said it is much easier to play their game because of the positive attitude Fulk has brought to the program, including junior defensive midfielder Daniel Valdez.
“He gives us a lot of confidence and he really knows soccer,” said Valdez, a Wesley Chapel High graduate. “He helps us stay calm. In the games he tells you if you do something wrong, but he keeps you positive. When it’s positive you can improve, because you don’t have the pressure on you. … We actually are playing so much better than last year, and I think the team is still going up.”
Valdez attended the University of South Florida as a freshman, but kept all four years of eligibility.
Valdez decided to come to SLU because it gave him a better chance to see the field regularly and allowed him to play in the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) against top competition. The story was similar for freshman midfielder Bruno Da Silva.
“I was debating between Saint Leo and the University of Tampa, but I got a good look at both, and I thought the way Saint Leo plays is more to my style,” Da Silva said.
The SSC has four of the top-25 teams in the nation: No. 1 Rollins, No. 9 Barry University, No. 16 Lynn University and No. 24 SLU. The Lions were ranked No. 8 at one point last year, but were knocked out of the first round of the conference tournament by Florida Tech University.
“I think it’s the best Division II conference in the country, and we all expect to come in and have to work hard,” Fulk said. “They’ve got the talent, and I’ve inherited these kids, so I think we just had to change a little bit of their mentality. Letting them know that being average is not good enough.”
Fulk does not have any predictions for how far the team can go this year but did stress they have the talent to make a deep postseason run. His message of hard work and confidence also appears to be sinking in.
“It’ll be tough, but I think if we put in all the work we will be able to win the conference,” Panter said. He then added, “Go Lions.”
SLU hosts Palm Beach Atlantic University on Tuesday, Oct. 4 before taking on SSC rival Lynn at home on Saturday, Oct. 8. Both games start at 7 p.m.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.