Last weekend I found myself on freshly installed artificial turf in the dark of night at Hooker Fields in Chapel Hill. It was spongy and smooth with literal tons of black pellets held in gigantic white tarps to the side of the field, ready to be spread over the grass green surface.
I stood with my former Co-Captain and we looked at the UNC logo painted huge across the field, wondering if and how our four years would have gone differently had the turf been put in before we graduated. Maybe Eric wouldn’t have had the chronic ankle sprain and hamstring tear resulting from the former potholes and sheet thin turf atop the concrete surface. Maybe I’d have a bit more money in my pocket instead of a pair of crutches in the closet and excitement at finally getting up to 8 minutes on the treadmill the other day.
But we only momentarily contemplated what could have been. Regrets and hindsight are not our style, and even if they were we’d be insane to want to change anything. Our time there brought us a team and a family and a National Championship. It led us to jobs that we’re happy to wake up and go to in the morning. It led us to new cities and emerging, self-sufficient adulthood. And back again to Chapel Hill to see the boys. It doesn’t get much better than that for us.
But in our victory lap we saw that the turf isn’t the only thing that has changed at school. With twelve seniors having graduated the roster has shifted dramatically and new people have stepped into leadership roles. So far it’s been tough for them, losing to UNC-Greensboro 4-0 in the second game defending last year’s run and trying to integrate twelve newly picked-up players into the squad. The fresh leadership is learning that there are way more off-field responsibilities than anticipated and that what the team needs may often come at the expense of them being liked. Understandably the boys are frustrated, but they realize what the problems are and they’re working to fix them.
I’ve got faith they’ll turn it around- they are hard working and unbelievably talented, especially considering they’re just a bunch of dudes who chose to put academics above soccer and play at the Club level. And they’ve also got that brand new pitch, which will only elevate their game as soon as it’s ready in the coming days.
In looking back the biggest change of all was the feeling of being back home. It is still home in a way- familiar, but like an ex-girlfriend or better yet like the person that was attracted to the ex-girlfriend in the first place. But while most people tend to think that they outgrow a time or a place or in this case, a school, this time UNC has outgrown us as a result of the people there shaping it into something new.
Amidst all the changes to campus and the things we used to know there, Eric and I are old news. But we’re proud of the legacy we have left behind. We’re proud of our guys, like Pearce for becoming the National MVP and Murat for earning a spot on the varsity team. But mostly we’re proud of the family we helped to build and the camaraderie that will take them through any wins and losses. I’m excited to see what’s coming down the pipeline for the boys and what they’re able to build together this year.