“Holes to fill”

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OHS Boys Soccer reloads for 2021 season

By Wil Crews
sportscrews@opelikaobserver.com

The Opelika High School Boys Soccer team began their 2021 season last week with a 7-1 win over Alabama Christian Academy and a 3-1 loss to Trinity Presbyterian from Montgomery.

The youthful squad appears to be a well-balanced one, with all eight of the goals scored this season coming from eight different players.

“Goal scoring wise, we share the load,” said OHS Boys Soccer coach Derek Hovell.  “It’s always a good thing to have multiple people be able to score.”

Despite the wealth in attacking options, Hovell said his team has “holes to fill.” The Bulldogs lost 10 seniors from last year’s team. They managed to replace them with 12 more this year, however, many struggled to find playing time last season, particularly because the schedule was cut short due to COVID-19.

“It’s a good senior-led group, but only four or five of them got a lot of playing time last year,” Hovell added. “So, we are all just trying to find our identity here – just trying to get back into the hang of things.”

 One of those seniors, defensive center back Will Bennett, is the only returning backline starter apart from senior goalkeeper Miller Issacson.

“We’ve really been relying on [Bennett] to help get everyone organized,” Hovell said. “[Issacson] brings a lot of experience for us too.” 

Another area of strength in the team is in the midfield. Seniors Landon Faison and Austin Roberts are the box-to-box midfielders, the fulcrum of the balanced play that Hovell has been impressed with to start the season.

“This year, I feel like we are a little bit more well-rounded than in the past,” Hovell said. “We are still trying to fill it out, but honestly, we’re playing just good balanced soccer. We’ve possessed the ball a little more than in the past, but we have also been able to be opportunistic and be direct when we needed too.”

 The secret to establishing the team’s identity on the pitch starts with their mentality.

“One of our goals this year is we want to score first every game,” Hovell said. “My philosophy that I’ve had for years is the five-minute rule. First five minutes of the half, last five minutes of every half and five minutes after every goal is when teams are most vulnerable, yourself and the other team. The boys kind of took that into their memory bank and put a statement on top of it and said ‘we want to be the ones that start that five minutes’.” 

When the team will inevitably fall behind or stumble early, the players will be reminded of that mentality by teammates like senior Harold Torres, who Hovell cannot speak of highly enough.

“[He’s] another guy who has been around the program for many years,” Hovell said. “He’s more of a vocal leader. He’s getting some rotational time, but he’s more of the sideline voice that helps the boys keep rolling.”

The ability to encourage and push each other forward is something that had quickly endeared this team to their head coach.

“One thing I can say about this team is: they’ve been able to keep each other’s spirits up and keep uplifting each other,” Hovell said.

The OHS boys were scheduled to play their next game against Central on Tuesday, weather permitting. However, the Bulldogs are just taking things day-by-day for now.

“Each day at practice we kind of focus just on that day,” Hovell said. “You don’t know if you’re going to be promised to play tomorrow. We try to take it one day at a time – even one session at a time. Just getting the boys to focus on what we are doing in that moment and just get to moving.”

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