Huntington’s men’s soccer team (HUMS) reported for training the first week of August for their annual mission’s trip to Florida, signaling the start of training sessions. They are now deep into their 2017-2018 season with the first half of play against non-conference opponents drawing to a close on September 20 as they took a commanding 4-0 win over the Yellow Jackets of Defiance College in Ohio.

This win not only gave HUMS a confidence boost going into Crossroads League conference play, which opened September 30, but it also showed a bright future for the team, as well as the amazing depth coach Russ Lawson has obtained for this year’s squad.

The roster was stretched thin leading up to the game as eight veteran players were unable to compete in the game due to various reasons. If this was supposed to put this young HUMS squad at a disadvantage, they were clearly never told so. They opened the scoring in the first minute of play, which led to them cruising through the game with authority to achieve their 4-0 win.

Junior Miguel de Sousa and senior Brooks Smith are leading the squad this year as Coach Lawson’s captains. The team suffered a serious blow in the season-ending injury to Brooks Smith when he tore his ACL.

Smith said he still has unwavering confidence in his brothers on the team. When asked what he thought was the biggest change to the team this season in a single word, he answered with “belief.”

“Last year, there was some shakiness to our confidence when results didn’t go our way,” Smith said. “This year, we don’t have that. We know that we can play with any team in the country. We trust the guys that are out on the field because they have earned the right to be there.”

Although Smith is not able to be on the field this year, he still is considered a great leader on the team.

Freshman Jake Erlandson said that even though Smith is not on the field, he’s an integral part of the team.

“He is always there supporting us,” Erlandson said. “My first goal I scored was for him. He drives me to play better, and I want to because I know he would give anything to be on the field with us”

Depth to a squad is important, and Smith said he is confident in the talent of the young men that the program has. He praised many freshmen for their potential to be great names, but singled out Erlandson as one to keep an eye on for the future of HU’s squad.

“He is a great team player and a really impactful teammate,” Smith said. “I will not be surprised when he is wearing the [captain’s] armband one day.”

Another attribute Smith praised Erlandson for was his confidence, especially for being a freshman. From the first day, he was one of the loudest players on the pitch, as well as someone who finds a way to influence the game no matter what. He cares about the game and is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team.

Coach Kevin Keske, HUMS alumni, was also quick to give Erlandson praise.

“He brings incredible athleticism to the back line, as well as being a threat in the air on the attack,” Keske said. “Even more so, his attitude is top notch.”

Erlandson said he thinks his intensity is the best part of his game.

“I just try to forget that I am a freshman, and I focus on playing to the level that I know I capable of,” he said.

He has already started to make a name for himself. As a center back, he has netted three goals so far this season. He has a knack for scoring in the important moments. On two occasions this season, he has finished last-minute goals to bring the Foresters level and to send games into overtime.

HUMS has a tough conference road ahead of them, especially in the #19 Spring Arbor team and rival, Bethel. Four different teams in the Crossroads remain unbeaten at home. HUMS is confident that they can get a result with any team.

The squad has a week to recover between their game against Defiance and the start of conference play. They hope to use this time to heal any lingering injuries to allow for them to perform at their best and show Crossroads and all of the NAIA what the Foresters are capable of.

Coming out to the games to support HUMS is something that is always appreciated by the players and coaches.

“Playing in front of your peers helps me play better,” Earlandson said. “It also reminds me what I am representing when I pull on that jersey.”

Smith said the best crowd he remembers having is at last year’s semi-final game against Bethel.

“People were playing drums and cheering constantly,” he said. “That is huge [during] the last ten minutes of a game. You forget about how tired you are, and it gives you the push to finish out a game. I would love for that to be every game of this year, especially at home.”