“These guys want to prove they are just as good as anyone else,” said Trappers head coach Stan Rodrigues. “They don’t want to fall under the stereotype that Wyoming does not have good soccer or players. That is simply untrue. There is quality here just as valuable as the minerals Wyoming is known for; you just have to dig a little.”
Talking to the Wyoming players only serves to illustrate that point.
“Growing up in Worland, there was not a lot of opportunities to play soccer,” said freshman defenseman Kyle Lamb. “There was a small rec league for kids and a traveling league. Every spring since I was 4 was filled with soccer. Soccer started out as a way for my parents to keep me busy, but as I got older I fell in love with the game more and more. Any chance I got to play the game I took it.”
For freshman Brian Crawford, a graduate of Rocky Mountain High School in Cowley, opportunities to play were even slimmer. Lack of a soccer team led him to the wrestling mat, where he trained himself into a Class 2A Wyoming state champion. He was also able to eventually rekindle his love for soccer, albeit as a Panther rather than a Grizzly.
“I started playing soccer when I was 5 years old until the age of 12 when I moved to Wyoming,” Crawford explained. “There was no junior high program available, so I couldn’t play until the age of 16 when I decided to travel to Powell High School.”
For players like Jarrett Shrum and Robert George, playing time was a little easier to find in Gillette and Casper, though soccer was still a tough sell. Shrum began playing club soccer at the age of 10 and never looked back, despite his friends playing other sports.
“It has been the only sport I have played, whether it be indoor or outdoor,” Shrum said. “Although it was not the most popular thing to do, it is what I enjoyed, so I stuck with it.”
When it came time to choose a college, the Wyoming players discovered they had some options: Of the seven community colleges in the state, five have soccer programs. Competition for a roster spot, however, is tight, as many of the schools recruit out-of-state and international talent. Northwest College is no exception, though coach Rodrigues knew he’d be remiss not to recruit from within the Cowboy State.
“I think soccer is still a developing sport in Wyoming, for various reasons,” Rodrigues said. “The youth soccer system is so scattered, especially up here; everything is so spread out. It’s hard to provide services for all of the areas, so I don’t believe there’s a lot of draw to recruit from Wyoming.”
George, the only sophomore of the nine, was recruited by former NWC head coach Rob Hill, and hasn’t regretted his decision to become a Trapper, despite a rough first year.
“I decided to come to NWC last year because I knew Rob [Hill] very well and had a good offer that I couldn’t pass up,” said George, a midfielder known for his physical style of play. “Even though last year didn’t go as well as I had hoped, I knew I couldn’t cut myself short and stop playing after one year. I decided to come back to a new coach and a new team for another year.”
George, Lander’s Daniel Lobera and Cody’s Johnny Varian are among the team leaders in offense for the Trappers this season, and Rodrigues said that’s no accident.
“[These guys] are hard-nosed blue collar players. Their work ethic and fearless style of play can remedy, at times, their lack of technical skills,” Rodrigues said. “They have a good all-around athleticism that makes them difficult to contain and extremely coachable.”
Calling his decision to attend NWC “well thought-out,” Lobera said one selling point was a familiarity with a number of his teammates.
“What brought me here was the team itself in the end,” Lobera said. “I loved the idea of being able to play with players I was familiar with from Wyoming, as well as international students with a different perspective on the game and in life. I knew guys who I’d be playing with like Rob [George], Jarrett [Shrum] and Kyle [Lamb] — and I knew that I’d get to meet incredibly talented players like Ryan Tyrer [from England] and Luke Holt [from Scotland], as well.”
Though his high school soccer experience was limited, Newcastle’s Marshall Rhoades didn’t let that stop him from giving collegiate soccer a shot.
“I came to NWC because of their aeronautics program and decided that I would also like to try and play soccer while I was here,” Rhoades said. “My experience so far has been good; I’ve learned a lot and improved greatly, I think. I have also made some good friends.”
One aspect of the game Rodrigues brought to NWC this season is a sense of family — something the entire team has readily bought into. The collegiate experience has introduced these players to teammates from all walks of life, and the closeness the team has achieved in a short amount of time is apparent.
“I love all the guys, they are my family, and I love coach Stan as well,” George said. “As well as his family, they are all my family.”
Lobera said the closeness of the team is hard to quantify.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not entirely sure why we all get along so well on this team,” Lobera said. “I think a few factors contribute. We all share a common love of the game, we have great leaders on the team to look up to like Ryan [Tyrer], Rob [George] and Aaron [Kovac]. Coach Stan does an amazing job of getting us to work for each other.”
To a man, each player credits Rodrigues for bringing a new mindset to NWC. Hard work and determination may have gotten the boys on the team; Rodrigues’ coaching has made them a true part of it.
“The team came along really fast this year because we needed to,” Lamb said. “There was no time to fight or start drama with one another. Stan, our coach, made it very clear what was expected and everyone rose together to those expectations.”
For Rodrigues, watching his Wyoming players improve and succeed has been a gratifying experience.
“The improvement that they’ve made from the beginning of the season to now, all of them have been so vital to our team,” Rodrigues said. “If I didn’t have those nine kids, I don’t know really where our team is.”