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?
All-Time favorite movie?
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?
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.”