The 2014 men’s soccer season will be full of challenges for the Stetson Hatters and their first-year head coach Ernie Yarborough.
The typical challenges of a tough non-conference schedule, dealing with injuries, and meshing new players with veterans are obvious and fairly routine for every team. The challenges of getting to know a new group of players and figuring out their strengths and weaknesses are also the norm for every first-year head coach.
But Yarborough and the Hatters come together this year under the most strenuous of circumstances. Longtime head coach T. Logan Fleck passed away in late July and Yarborough, a Central Florida native and a national champion as a player and assistant coach, took the reins just days before players reported in mid-August. And he and the rest of the Hatters are together working through all the challenges.
“To be honest the most challenging part has been to figure out where the players need to be on the field,” said Yarborough. “The players that had been in the program before know their positions, or think they know their positions, but as I told them when I first got here that as a coaching staff our job is to evaluate everything.”
The Hatters endured a disappointing 2013 campaign, posting a 3-10-4 overall record and failing to qualify for the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. Twelve letter winners return from last season, including senior defender and team leader JJ Bostic, a second-team all-conference selection last year and preseason all-league pick for 2014.
Also back for Stetson are seniors Dwight Lodge, JJ Lofthouse-Smith, Ross Morison, and Chris Aguirre. All will be looked to for leadership and stability. But Yarborough indicated the entire team has taken on a leadership role.
“It’s the whole group,” he said. “I talked to them early on about how we are a family. Those guys are brothers; we’ve helped each other find our way through this. The situation that we are in is a unique one. No one looks at it as an excuse or a reason to not move forward.”
“We’re strong at keeper,” he said. “I feel very comfortable with what Paul is doing back there for us. We have a pretty good forward in Eli, and potentially another one in Marco. Lucas is an additional quality attacking player that can really help the group.”
Toughness and organization are the hallmarks Yarborough expects the Hatters to carry with them all season.
“Organizationally we’re getting close to where we need to be,” he said. “I told them early on that I’d like for us to be a tough team to play against. I think we’re getting there.”
Typically, teams begin the season with a list of goals. When players show up for their first team meeting of the year, those goals are written on a white board, displayed prominently in the locker room or passed out on a piece of paper. The Hatters are no different. Yarborough said the seniors have talked about winning the conference tournament, not only as a reward for themselves but as a way to honor the memory of Coach Fleck.
As far as overall season goals, however, Yarborough takes a different approach.
“We haven’t done a lot of goal setting,” said Yarborough. “Our number one goal is to be a tough team to play against every game. I tell the guys that if you do things the right way and work hard and you’re good people, good things will happen. At that point you hope the results take care of themselves.”
Stetson opens the 2014 season this weekend at the Duke/Nike Invitational in Durham, N.C. The Hatters face Elon, 5 p.m., Friday, and Duke at 2:30 p.m., Sunday.