Head Coach Steve DeCou
Head Coach Steve DeCou and Georgia Gwinnett College
(Atlanta – GA / By Glenn Boylan)
Having completed a very successful 2013 season, Head Coach Steve DeCou and Georgia Gwinnett College men’s soccer team are already working hard for the new season. Coach DeCou and Assistant Coach Kevin May sat down with 10Soccer to discuss the keys to last year’s success, and what they’re doing to keep the program growing.
– Photo Courtesy of Georgia Gwinnett College.
The list of accomplishments for the Grizzlies men’s soccer team in 2013 is impressive:
13-4 regular season record
A.I.I. Tournament Champions
The school’s first NAIA National Tournament appearance
The school’s first NAIA All-American player, Rene Enang
Six All-Conference players
The A.I.I. Coach of the Year award for DeCou
I asked Coach DeCou what was the single most important thing that led to that success. “A loss,” he replied.
“I think it was the Reinhardt loss,” DeCou explained. “We outplayed them statistically, but lost 2-1 in overtime. I think it was at that point the team started to realize you can’t take a day off. You can’t just show up.”
After that game the team caught fire, winning 10 out of their next 11 games to complete the regular season and win the A.I.I. tournament. “Our leaders really started to lead,” DeCou said.
That’s something the GGC program is still working to develop. With the maturity the team showed last season, it’s easy to forget that the longest any player has been with the program is just 18 months.
As Coach DeCou explained, “We’re still working toward developing that mentality – that leadership. But the upperclassmen did a great job of pointing the direction for the young guys.”
With two-thirds of the A.I.I. championship team returning, I asked DeCou if it was going to be hard to keep the 2014 team focused on the upcoming season and not resting on the laurels of last season’s success.
“That’s something every program fights,” DeCou answered. “One of our fears is that they’re going to come back, believe their clippings, and think they don’t have to do the work. We have to fight that complacency.”
Now the focus for DeCou and his staff is on 2014 and getting the right recruits to complement the returning lettermen. As we talked about recruiting, we discussed the large international presence on the GGC roster. Last year, half of the team was from outside the United States.
DeCou said that is partly a necessity and partly by design. “The 6’ 2” striker who can score a goal every time, who has grown up watching SEC football, thinks he’s going Division 1. We’re doing our best to recruit these kids, but currently they’re going to Clemson, Indiana, places like that. As young as we are [as a program] we’re not on the radar yet. That’s why we have to go overseas.”
And DeCou and May believe the international players make the program stronger. “You need a bit of an international influence,” DeCou explained. “It brings diversity to the team. It brings different perspectives. If we’re going to win championships, we have to have special players.”
But whether the players come from Lawrenceville, like forward Martin Lugo, or Newcastle, England, like goalkeeper Lewis Sharpe, DeCou says he recruits with one question in mind: “Where do we need to get better?”
There’s a white board in Coach DeCou’s office that serves as the focal point for recruiting. The left side shows the returning players. The recruits are shown on the right. DeCou outlined the process: “We look at the board and say, ‘Where are we a bit thin? Where do we feel that we can improve?’ You look at certain areas and target those.” (Except that DeCou will always take a good striker. As he says, “You can never have enough guys who can score goals.”)
This year’s recruits are looking strong. One 2014 recruit is already on campus, 6 others have signed, and the class could be complete as early as next week.
It’s a system. The coaching staff is trying to upgrade each position. They do that by recruiting better players, while at the same time coaching up their current players, with the goal of having them play well enough to keep the new guys on the bench. It improves the depth of the team, the quality of the practices, and of course, the results on game day.
The Grizzlies have started their spring workouts. Weight training has been going on for a few weeks and the early morning training sessions are about to start. But spring is also the time when the team will get involved with community service. DeCou sees a bigger picture than just the game on the pitch. “We’ve got to prepare looking ahead to next year,” he said, “but we’ve got to give something back as well. We’re helping prepare them for life.”
In the end, recruiting – and coaching – is all about building relationships. “That’s the best part about what we get to do,” DeCou said.
Georgia Gwinnett soccer has achieved remarkable success in a very short time. They have the outstanding facilities and great players that are essential. But the strength of the program lies in those relationships that Coach DeCou, Coach May, and the entire staff are building – not just with the team, but also with the GGC and Gwinnett County communities. The future looks very bright for Grizzly soccer, not just in 2014, but for many years to come.