Who’s That? Meet Walid Birrou.

By Benjamin Peacock

“He’s the fourth best keeper in the league, at best,” they said when Rangers goalkeeper Walid Birrou won the 2018 Heartland Conference Golden Glove. It was not like he had anything to prove to the critics, but he did so in a tremendously strong way minding the net in his first National Premier Soccer League season last year. In fact, for six straight matches he defied every shot taken. He outlasted his opposite for conference rival FC Wichita on penalty kicks that gave the Stags the Heartland Conference championship. He was also named to the Heartland Conference Starting XI. (And oh by the way, he shut down the team again that called him fourth best.)

But before all that, Walid was an eight year old centerback in Gandia, Spain. If you play soccer in Spain, that is really your entire focus. Walid was on the roster for Ciudad Ducal until he was 19 years old. His interest in goalkeeping started around 10 and by the time he was on the U12 team, he was in the net full time.

In the college-age years, Walid played for a fifth division team called Fuensport, which is right under semi-pro level. He got in about a half season that first year and then his second on the team, they were promoted to fourth division, finishing runner up in the championship. From there, he moved over to CD Teruel U23, which is second from professional level, but this was a difficult transition because the team was three hours away.

“We were a very young team in a very old league, where the average age was nearly 30 years old,” he added. He also noted he got to play in a home stadium that had the capacity for 8-9,000 people. Quite the experience.

Then a recruiting firm came calling and Walid was offered a scholarship to Oakland City University in Indiana, a Division II school. In his first game with Oakland City, the team lost but it was in the second extra time and their opponent was a Division I school. Walid would earn All Region First Team honors and played in a championship game for NCCAA.

Walid graduated from Oakland City with a Bachelor of Arts in Education and has some time to remain in the states for an additional year by working in an area of his degree. His plan is to teach at the elementary level. Right now, Walid is working for the firm that recruited him, Athletes USA, as an online recruiter. He’s an avid gym goer, plays a little FIFA on the PS4, loves movies, and is a self-proclaimed Instagram junkie.

One thing he is not, though, is an early riser. “I don’t wake up very early, usually a little before practice at 10 am,” he said. “And I don’t like to eat before practice.”

When he returns, he’ll typically consume some eggs, turkey breast, and an avocado before heading off to the gym. Which out of season, he’ll do five or six days a week, but in-season more like three or four. He helps with the Rangers’ youth soccer academy and also does some individual soccer tutoring. Evenings are his time to chill. Game days are not going to be much different for him. He wants to maintain the same regimen around the match.

“If you try to behave different, the goal is to be the most comfortable as possible,” he explained. He will talk to his mom in Spain before every match; sometimes his brother. 

Relationships are an integral part of Walid’s makeup. From the coach who taught him as he started focusing on goalkeeping, to other teachers and coaches in his eclectic soccer journey, it is important to him to have a close relationship and absorb as much as possible.

“If you ask any of them, they’ll tell you I ask a lot. I like to know how they got where they are and what they’ve been through,” Walid said of the influential people in his life.

As to aspirational soccer figures, he has had a few. In his early days, he wanted to imitate the likes of Victor Valdes of Barcelona, where Walid was born. In high school, he found courage in Tim Howard’s story fighting Tourette’s while playing such a very mentally driven position as goalkeeper. He also mentioned drawing inspiration from Connor McGregor, a UFC fighter who despite living in poverty managed to keep doing what he loved and believed in himself.

After his first year at Oakland City came to an end, Walid wanted to continue playing in the summer and had an appointment during spring break to practice with Accrington Stanley, a League 2 team in England. Through association from his college coach to Rangers Coach Will Montgomery, he got a call on his way to the airport inviting him to come to Little Rock to try out.

“I got some info about the city and team. I was impressed with the giant stadium and very good social media presence that made info easy to find,” Walid said of what attracted him. “The team had multiple nationalities, too.”

When he got back from England, he called Coach Montgomery and drove seven hours to take part in the two day tryout. It did not exactly go according to plan.

“My first game in training I let a couple goals in that I should have saved and [Rangers’ Team Director] Ante Jazic told Will I was no good,” a fact they all joke about now. For a couple days he did not hear back, so he called Montgomery and convinced him of his place on the team and his desire to come here over other options he had available.

The 2018 season was certainly memorable. A 7-3 conference record, the aforementioned run of matches where no opponent scored, defeating an undefeated team—Laredo, the #1 ranked team in the nation—in the South Region Semifinal, and a South Region final experience.

“The most special moment was the first game I played because it is difficult to get on a team in the summer,” Walid recalled. “The moment Coach told me I was starting, I felt it was going to be a good season. I was feeling confident. I was ready to go.”

Walid is excited for 2019, particularly the US Open Cup. It is a special opportunity for him to get to play in the historic tournament with his teammates. The prospect of being the underdog drives him. He is going to take it game by game.

“Our goal has to be to win the next game. Not the South Region or the Heartland or the Open Cup. Just win the next game,” he said.

Of course, there is more to Walid than being the best goalkeeper in the NPSL. He speaks five languages! Spanish, French, Arab, English, and Catalonian. He also noted people would be surprised to know how much he actually eats and yet manages to stay as trim as he does.

Here’s some other points of interest gathered in a rapid-fire Q&A.

Who are your favorite professional soccer teams?

I watched Colorado Rapids a little because of Tim Howard. And Barcelona (of course).

All-Time favorite movie?

Harry Potter movies or any action movie with The Rock or Jason Statham.

Where’s your favorite place to eat and hang out in Little Rock?

I like The Fold and I love being at War Memorial. I also like going to the River Market and the mall.

If you had tomorrow off, how would you spend it?

I would go home to Spain. I haven’t been there since August 2017.

What is a superpower you wish you had?

The ability to stop time so I could take a nap.

What is your spirit animal?

Panther. It comes from when I was playing for Ciudad Ducal. My attire was all black and some teammates started to call me Panther. When I moved for college, they started to call me Panterazo, coming from both Panther and Porterazo (which means good goalkeeper).

As a man of international travel, what is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Snails.

Favorite international food?

I didn’t like Mexican before but I love it now. I also love sushi.

Walid moved Little Rock a couple weeks ago and is settled in with new roommate Donald Benamna, who is also returning this year. With the first pre-season match only two and half weeks away, he is both excited and ready to show fans what the Rangers can do.

“We are going to need fans more than ever,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenging season but exciting because we are now the team that everyone wants to beat. Everyone is coming after us. We had good support last year. We need more. And we know they will be there for us.”

He pledged to make fans proud in everything they do. And no doubt, fans will have many reasons to cheer El Quatro in goal.

Who’s That? Meet Trevor Reed.

By Benjamin Peacock

Over the course of the next several weeks leading up to the season, I am conducting one-on-one interviews with players to publish what I hope will be fun, entertaining, and informative reads on our team. Very often fans are removed from the athletes they cheer, so I hope this series of publications will help Rangers fans connect to their team in a meaningful way.

Cabot resident Trevor Reed cried in his first game of soccer at the tender age of four because he did not want to play. But fortunately for him and the Little Rock Rangers, to which he is returning for his fourth season, his emotions and desire toward the sport changed.

Trevor just graduated from Northeastern State University with a degree in cellular biology, which is pretty impressive to this fellow biology major of yore. Except like all good science majors, we don’t end up doing anything with the degree, and currently Trevor is getting his private pilot license on his path to become a commercial pilot like his father.

“My dad and I are pretty much the same person. He works out with me. Any time I go to the field he’s right there. He also runs marathons so he’ll run with me too,” Trevor said.

There are basically four places you’ll find Trevor these days. Pilot school, a soccer pitch, the gym (seriously, a lot of gym time), and with any left over time, on Fortnite. He coaches a little with an FC Dallas affiliated team in Cabot when he’s not doing his own training.

Trevor himself played for Cabot Crew when he was 11 then switched to Arkansas Soccer Club before spending the rest of his teenage years playing for Arkansas United. He was recruited to Northeastern on scholarship and in his tenure there earned seven First Team All Region and All Conference awards. In his sophomore year, he was selected as the Division II National Player of the Week having scored four goals in two games. Funny enough, he found out about that on social media before an official notification reached him.

Little Trevor was motivated by the play style of Didier Drogba of Chelsea, who helped them win a couple Premier League titles and was named to the FIFA World XI in 2007. These days Trevor follows Lionel Messi.

“He’s good at everything. Passes, killer balls, scores, dribbling. He was born with something that other people don’t have,” he said of Messi.

As a workout-aholic, Trevor has a pretty tight daily regimen. His go-to before practice is a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Then he’ll train for a couple hours until lunch. Then it’s off to the gym. Then a run in the evening. This is exhausting just writing about it. He does take one day a week off though! As for game days, he described the evolution of his preparations.

“I had a problem with eating too much. I figured out if I ate a peanut butter sandwich three hours before [the game] and a granola bar at the stadium, I’m perfect to go,” he said.

Having lived in Arkansas since he was two—he was born in Abilene, TX at the air force base there—the Little Rock Rangers provided him the perfect opportunity to keep playing. Trevor had college teammates who were playing for Tulsa while he was more or less training on his own for a while and looking for his own place to play. Then the Rangers organized in 2016.

“I heard they were putting together an NPSL team and I knew Will [Montgomery] from United. So I tried out at the end of my sophomore year. I thought it’d be pretty cool to play in front of family and friends. And the organization amongst management has been run really well,” explained Trevor.

His favorite moment on the team is similar to other returning players: beating Wichita on their home field. Trevor recounted the fans there were yelling some pretty obscene things at them on the bench so he enjoyed seeing the fanbase deflate when the Stags won the game on PKs.

Trevor is a pretty quiet guy but could also be the candidate for most humorous on the team. He’s the king of dad jokes and brought a pretty good groaner as we chatted.

“Who was the roundest knight at King Arthur’s table?” he asked me. There was silence and staring through the FaceTime call as this writer desperately tried to rain on his joke parade by coming up with the answer. “Sir Cumference,” he said. The interview moved on without comment.

Who is your favorite MLS team and overseas team?

LA Galaxy because of Ante Jazic. Barcelona for sure. And I’m going to hop on the Tottenham train. [Writers note: My man! #COYS]

Favorite place to eat:

Tropical Smoothie. I get the Island Green (spinach, kale, mango, pineapple, and banana).

What’s your favorite place to hang out?

The Little Rock Air Force Base gym. (By the way, Trevor’s dad served 22 years in the Air Force, retiring in 2013. Big salute to his service for our country.)

If you had the day off tomorrow with no training, no worries, no ramifications, how would you spend it?

I would definitely hop on a plane and go watch Barcelona play. I really want to see Messi play in person before he retires.

Whose concert would you travel a long way to see?

A$AP Rocky.

What is a super power you wish you had?

Teleportation. I’d go to the beach somewhere.

What is your spirit animal?

Some species of monkey. They seem like jokesters.

Looking forward to the 2019 season, all eyes are on the Rangers’ bid in the US Open Cup. The team doesn’t yet know who their first round competitor will be nor where the match will be played. That is determined by a coin flip. Some of the most important aspects of playing in this prestigious tournament is seeing what players are made of and being seen by upper level scouts.

“It is a great opportunity for us to see how good we can be. We won’t be as tired having traveled so much in a short amount of time,” Trevor explained in comparison to the South Region Final against Miami FC 2 last season. “We are better equipped and adapted having seen it now.”

Trevor’s goal is to do his part to exceed where the Rangers went last season. And he thinks the fan base will do the same. The team will bring more, the fans will bring more people.

“Last year was amazing and I think we can increase that more this season,” he said.

One final note was sent after the interview was concluded. What do you call a werewolf with a YouTube channel? Lycansubscribe.

Who’s That? Meet Jaden Hoth

By Benjamin Peacock

Over the course of the next several weeks leading up to the season, I am conducting one-on-one interviews with players to publish what I hope will be fun, entertaining, and informative reads on our team. Very often fans are removed from the athletes they cheer, so I hope this series of publications will help Rangers fans connect to their team in a meaningful way.

Utah native Jaden Hoth has had an eclectic journey in soccer from his days wearing a bumblebee stylized kit as a kid to his current stag logo with the Little Rock Rangers. His story in the sport began as he tagged along to his brother’s games, which his mom coached. She was a player herself in high school so the love of the sport is very much a family affair. In fact, Jaden’s mom was his coach until he turned 18. Jaden attributes full credit to his brother and mother for his strong soccer, and general work, ethic.

“Instead of always putting me down, he always pushed me to be better and treated me like I was the best. He tried to launch me ahead of himself,” Jaden said of his brother Colton.

For his mom, it was always important to keep healthy balances; to not give one thing all his attention at the expense of other experiences in life. In other words, there’s more to life than soccer. So she pushed him to develop other skills, to surround himself with people of different interests, and even made him learn piano.

“She wouldn’t let me practice soccer until I did piano,” Jaden recounted.

Jaden’s first time to try out for a team came at 8, when he wore the aforementioned yellow and black kits of the Logan Lightning. It was then he was watching the likes of Zinedine Zidane win the France vs Brazil World Cup final in 1998. Living in small town Utah, his high school team was kind of so-so but he did earn MVP honors. After high school, he spent a year in Arizona, then moved on to a junior college in Iowa. His team placed 5th in the Junior College Nationals and Jaden himself had a couple of American All State honors notched into his belt.

About that time, Jaden was planning to go play in Kansas City but had a good buddy recruited by the University of Central Arkansas. With that association, he visited Conway and was enamored with the area. He signed with UCA and played while going to physical therapy school. He is now a practicing PT for Baptist Health North Little Rock.

Even though he is in the career stage of life now, he is not done with soccer. Jaden comes to his fourth season as a midfielder with the Rangers in 2019. He regularly keeps up with his athletic disciplines, often training and drilling with team captain Nick Doyle on the fields of UCA. Like some of his other teammates who reside in Conway, Don Pepe’s comes in handy for the protein/carb loading burritos. On game days, Jaden adopts a “look good, play good” attitude. Seems to be working!

Outside of soccer, Jaden has a long growing fondness for hockey (which certainly perked the interest of this writer). Growing up in Utah certainly led to his interest, and he has even been thinking on getting a team together in Little Rock! Jaden also had some big talk about his golf game. Okay not really, but he mentioned he does enjoy it, along with a little tennis.

Jaden repeatedly described the Rangers as one of the most organized and professionally run organizations around. He pays it forward to the Ranger’s academy, teaching and developing skills in the Elite Performance Academy to boys and girls 8 to 14 years old, as well as the Young Bucks, who are in the 4 to 6 year old range.

He remembers the first season well, describing how it charged him to see the large crowd accumulating and how loud they were getting as the team took to the pitch. “It blew us all out of the water,” he explained. “The atmosphere was awesome. We ended up winning and when we scored our first goal the crowd was so loud! I’d never played in front of a crowd like that.”

Now Jaden, like his teammates, is looking ahead to 2019 which includes the team’s first bid in the US Open Cup. That’s coming off a season where the team blasted through to the National Premier League Soccer’s South Regional Final.

“I think we got a taste of the caliber [team] we’ll be playing against when we played Miami FC 2. All the guys, not just me, are focusing on making sure we come in fit this season,” he said of his preparation for the tournament. Jaden’s family is ready with travel plans depending on where the coin flip lands the first round match, and he has already taken the entire week off from work.

So what can be said of Jaden apart from soccer and career? He was put through some rapid fire questions to find out.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

I like cottage cheese on my mashed potatoes.

Who are your MLS and overseas teams?

Real Salt Lake and growing up I liked Manchester United.

What is your all-time favorite movie?

Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Where’s your favorite place to hang out in Little Rock?

War Memorial Stadium.

If you had the day off tomorrow with no training, no worries, no ramifications, how would you spend it?

I’d probably hit the golf course then get a round of tennis in. Take my girlfriend out to a nice dinner. We love Bossa Nova.

Whose concert would you travel a long way to see?

Coldplay or Odesza.

What is one superpower you wish you had?

Time travel. I’d first go back and bet to get money, then I’d go to ancient Rome.

What is your spirit animal?

Dolphin.

Jaden has made the rounds in his soccer career, from Utah to Arizona to Iowa to Arkansas. He’s played on several levels, thus far culminating in his role for the Rangers. He is a midfielder who just plain works hard, makes no mistakes, and doesn’t get pushed around. (But could maybe work on his cellys when he scores.) When he had the chance to fly out to LA for a combine a couple years ago, he noted that our team had become a major talking point amongst other NPSL players, particularly the home match attendance and atmosphere.

“We have the best fans in the league hands down. When I step out on the field, I have that in my mind to represent this city.”

Who’s That? Meet Ben Watson.

By Benjamin Peacock

Over the course of the next several weeks leading up to the season, I am conducting one-on-one interviews with players to publish what I hope will be fun, entertaining, and informative reads on our team. Very often fans are removed from the athletes they cheer, so I hope this series of publications will help Rangers fans connect to their team in a meaningful way.

If you want to know what caliber of soccer player Ben Watson is, look no further than the fact he impressed Coach Will Montgomery enough to walk on to the Little Rock Rangers team at the last minute in the 2018 season.

Ben started running around on a pitch in Sherman, TX while he watched his three older brothers play until he got on his first team at the age of five. He dabbled in several sports, like basketball—owing to his 6 foot frame—as well as some baseball, tennis, cross country, and track. That was up until his freshman year of high school when he decided to focus on his first passion.

High school wasn’t his first marker in competitive soccer, though. That started back in 6th grade where the nearest team was an hour’s drive every day. But those are the sacrifices that the good players are willing to make, and a short perusal of Ben’s success confirms he is, in fact, a very good player. In high school he was named to the All State First Team twice, All District team all four years at Texoma Christian School, and as a senior received District I MVP, All Tournament, and State MVP honors while helping forge a path to the state championship. Such was the influence of these years, Ben and his coach, Eric Krotz, still keep in touch on a weekly basis.

Ben is currently attending Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He was recruited on scholarship and seized an opportunity as a freshman to make a statement. The team lost several players to substance violations and the young guns had to step up. They went 7-9-1 that season but he laid the groundwork for more to come, earning the team’s Newcomer of the Year accolade for his effort. The RiverHawks made it to the Elite 8 in 2017 and then as a junior in 2018, the team went 15-3, making it to the Round of 16. Ben made First Team All region and All Conference.

Ben keeps up with his education really well, as he studies Health and Human Performance with a minor in Psychology. He’s aiming to go to Physical Therapy school in Texas upon graduating. Having just been named to the Academic All American team in December, he’s setting himself up well for that goal.

Ben’s typical day will involve plenty of discipline to stay game ready, including that all-important first meal of the day. Oatmeal, eggs, and fruit will be consumed plentifully to get in the carbs and proteins. After class, he’ll hit the weights and then go straight to training for a couple hours in the evening, getting in some cardio when he can. From there, he undergoes treatment in the training room, stretching and hydration, and eats lots of chicken and rice.

As for game days, Ben doesn’t really have any quote-unquote superstitious rituals but he and his roommate Trevor Reed (also of the Rangers) would always go to Subway for a game day sandwich. Music and a little FIFA video game action to keep the mind clear gets him ready.

But that’s not to say he’s all regimen and no relax. Ben loves the outdoors, most of all when he gets to spend that time with friends hiking, hunting, or fishing. Granted most days are about soccer, but when it is not, he’s invested in his friends.

Off the pitch, it is easy to see why Ben values relationships. He credits his best friend’s mom for setting him on a disciplined path of academic rigor and athletic discipline. “Home life was tough and she took me in and I stayed a lot there. They fed me and made sure I did my homework,” Ben recalled. These days he stays with Trevor when he is here to play for the Rangers.

Growing up, Ben looked to Clint Dempsey as the professional soccer athlete he aspired to be. “He was from Texas and paved the way for Americans to play overseas,” Ben said. These days he looks to the careers of players like Dani Alvarez or Marcelo, both Brazilian backs.

2018 was Ben’s first season on the Rangers squad and it wasn’t his plan to begin with. When playing for a team in Virginia fell through, he had two days to figure out what to do. Trevor was very influential in pointing Ben to the Rangers having played for the team two years and connected him to Coach Montgomery.

“Trevor talked to Coach Will and I remember he replied a day and half later asking when I could be there,” Ben recounted. “I told him ‘Literally tomorrow’ and drove to Little Rock that night.” He practiced with the team for a couple days, had immediate chemistry, and his place on the backline alongside captain Nick Doyle was secured.

The season to come would see the Rangers push deep into the playoffs all the way to the South Region Final. In that run, led in no small part to Ben’s sharp defense, the Rangers held opponents scoreless for six straight matches and went undefeated from their game against Ozark FC on June 16 until the loss to Miami FC 2. Ben was named to the Heartland Conference Starting XI, South Region Starting XI, and National Starting XI. Yeah. Wow.

When asked about his favorite moment last year, Ben replied “It had to be winning the conference championship against Wichita on penalty kicks at their place.”

From all accounts, Ben maintains a very healthy balance of education, fitness, activity, relationships, and fun. And speaking of the latter, to end the interview Ben was asked several rapid fire questions to dig into a little of his personality.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

Definitely the fact that I have seven siblings. Three older brothers, then me, two younger sisters within three years of me, then one eight year old sister, and one five year old brother.

Who are your professional teams?

For MLS, it’s FC Dallas. In EPL (English Premier League), it’s Chelsea. (Writer’s note: when I prodded him about Chelsea’s recent performance being the good Spurs fan I am, he acknowledged “they are struggling”.)

All time favorite movie?

As a kid, Jungle Book (the old cartoon version). As a soccer player, of course Goal.

Favorite place to eat?

Chipotle

If you had the day off tomorrow—no training, no practice, no worries—how would you spend it?

Probably sleeping in a little, then if the weather is nice, go to Sparrow Hawk which is a hiking place overlooking the river. Then come back and grill out with friends. I love to grill.

Whose concert would you travel a long way to see?

Khalid

What is one superpower you wish you had?

Teleportation

So the new season for the Rangers is rapidly approaching and there is a buzz amongst returning players, staff, and fans, especially in qualifying to compete in the US Open Cup.

“I am super excited because the Open Cup is something you always dream about playing in as a kid,” Ben said. “Being on a team and the possibility of playing a professional side, whether USL or MLS, and the doors it can open.”

A door metaphor is pretty appropriate. Ben’s skill in the defensive third closes the door on opponent scoring chances with regularity, while simultaneously opening them for the Rangers to make new, historic achievements. In the team’s fourth season and Ben’s second, the opportunity in both Heartland Conference action and the US Open Cup has never been more exciting!

Who’s That? Meet Nicholas Doyle.

By Benjamin Peacock

Over the course of the next several weeks leading up to the season, I am conducting one-on-one interviews with players to publish what I hope will be fun, entertaining, and informative reads on our team. Very often fans are removed from the athletes they cheer, so I hope this series of publications will help Rangers fans connect to their team in a meaningful way.

Oh, Captain, my Captain! Nicholas Doyle returns for his fourth season with the Little Rock Rangers and I got to spend a few minutes with him on a FaceTime chat this week to get to know the star defenseman. Nick is from Port Elizabeth, South Africa and made it all the way to Arkansas through a recruitment effort by Central Baptist College in Conway. He played on scholarship there but that came years down the road from when he first started kicking a ball on a pitch.

In honor of his roots, I’ll stick to calling the sport football. The game is a way of life in the neighborhoods Nick grew up in. Picture kids here in America picking up a stick and ball to have a game of baseball in the street and you’ll easily translate that to what goes on in the streets of Port Elizabeth every afternoon after school. Nick was 4 years old when he first joined a team. And he stuck with Callies FC until he was 18. It was around 13 years old when he got serious and the love of the game took hold.

“The culture is different [in South Africa]. We love the game for the game. We’d play in the streets a lot outside of practice with friends in the neighborhood,” Nick explained.

CBC visited Nick at his high school and recruited him through a scholarship agency called WSAS, and he spent the next four years in Conway, graduating with a Business Admin degree. He went on to the University of Central Arkansas to earn his MBA, paid for by working as a graduate assistant for the soccer team. During his time with CBC, the team went to Regional Finals twice. Nick won Defender of the Year three times in his tenure and he was the leading goal scorer—as a centerback mind you—during his junior year.

Nick credits Thierry Henry as his aspirational player when he was growing up. Nick wasn’t always a defender; he actually played left wing and idolized Henry’s career, who was Arsenal’s all-time leading goal scorer before moving on to Barcelona where the achievements kept piling up before retiring in 2014. On the home front, Nick gives a lot of credit to his childhood friend Clinton, who they called Skinny.

“He was the reason I started football,” Nick reminisced. “He was a little older than me and I looked up to him. He gave me my first pair of boots. He would play senior level games and I would watch, then he’d stay after and kick a ball with me.”

These days the 6’1”, 26 year old is still fully invested in football, working as an Associate Head Coach for the men’s team at CBC. One major theme that came from getting to know Nick is that he takes his responsibilities very seriously. He has a very calm demeanor about him that signifies a high degree of importance to staying mentally ready. Sleep is an important factor as well as minimizing distraction. He will start the day out with some oats that he adds bananas and almonds too. He’ll spend a good 90 minutes in a gym, often jumping in with his players. Any other training, he prefers to do later in the day. But the key is to stay relaxed.

As far as game day preparation, Nick loads up the pasta on the day before the match and either grabs Chipotle or Don Pepe’s (a favorite of his in Conway) for lunch. Some soothing African vibe music will be playing, preferring to leave the heavier tunes to players who will use it to get psyched up. Focus. That’s the name of the game for Nick.

When you love something so much, you devote a lot of time and focus to it. That’s why outside of his job as a college coach and a player for the Rangers, he’s instructing boys and girls in the Rangers EPA program, as well as Arkansas United. Naturally having attended CBC, the Little Rock Rangers were a very present opportunity to continue the dream of playing his beloved game of football.

“It was the most professional thing in the state hands down,” he said.

In the Rangers’ first season, Nick actually had to sit out the first five games due to international bureaucracy. It is probably worth noting—just so fans can understand the impact Nick has on the team—that the Rangers lost those first five games. Once he was cleared to play, the Rangers won five and tied 2. Read that as you will. He’s carried the Captain mantle all three years and will keep the arm band going into 2019.

“For me it is a privilege and responsibility. I like to be a supporting role to my teammates on and off the field. Making sure that everyone is switched on when the whistle blows and that I’m being vocal on the field, instructing if things are not going the way coach planned. Get everyone in the same mindset, ready, prepared,” Nick had to say of his captaincy.

His favorite moment in his tenure with the Rangers is shared with several of his teammates. That is winning the conference championship in Wichita. The game went to PKs at their stadium. He also was proud of being the leading goal scorer in the team’s second season as a centerback. And who can forget that he, along with his defensive partner Ben Watson, and ace goalkeeper Walid Barrou, earned clean sheets for six games in a row last year. Folks, that’s over 600 minutes of keeping opponents scoreless!

Now he is looking ahead and the biggest attention grabber is the fact he’ll be playing in the storied US Open Cup. But for a pretty even-keel guy who makes staying relaxed his highest priority, he’s got one simple thing in mind.

“Win,” he said. The Rangers are likely to face a similar calibre team as they faced in the South Region Finals last year at Miami FC 2, but he’s not concerned. “In the Miami game we were dead in our legs. Had no power. I think we’ll stand a good chance of winning [against that level of team].”

Although soccer is a dominant factor in his life, there’s more personality to unfold, so to that end, I put Nick through a few rapid fire questions to dig in to the person a bit.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

I don’t breathe when I eat. I’m a savage when it comes to it, and my wife stresses out thinking I’m going to die. (LOL) And probably how much I can eat.

Who is your MLS team?

I don’t really watch MLS but if I had to pick a team, it’d be LA Galaxy because Beckham played there. (Author’s note: I gently teased he may want to pay attention since they could very well be facing an MLS team this year.)

How about an overseas team?

Arsenal

All-Time favorite movie?

Gladiator

Favorite place to eat?

Don Pepe’s in Conway.

Favorite place to hang out around central Arkansas?

War Memorial Stadium.

Whose concert would you travel a long way to see?

Back in the day, Lincoln Park, but now, Coldplay.

If you had one super power, what would you choose?

Flying. I’d fly to Emirates Stadium for every match.

What’s your spirit animal?

Leopard.

As cool and collected as Nick is, he noted he can turn into a fierce competitor on a dime. It is that combination that makes him the solid choice for team Captain, maintaining a calm demeanor while pushing betterment in himself and his team. And he credits the tremendous professionalism of the team and the enthusiasm of the fans as the main factors for having the drive to keep playing and succeed. The Rangers are known for drawing some of the largest crowds in NPSL that even rival USL attendance.

“That’s why we have so much player attention [for recruitment],” Nick explained. “They want to come back and play for the fans. You dream of playing in front of thousands of people and we have that opportunity here.”

To those who have eyes toward this season, he ended by saying with confidence, “Be ready, because we’re going to kill it.”

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