Elon’s Shelby McKay sat down with senior men’s soccer player Clint Collins in November to discuss the team, and what his future holds.
SM: This senior class had made many Elon soccer “firsts.” Talk about the success of the program during your four years.
CC: One of the big things that I think about is my first year here. It was an up and coming program with a new head coach and new players. My class had eight guys come in, which is the most for any class, I think. To see where we are now, having won a SoCon Championship, to be competing with teams on a national level every time we go out. It’s really exciting. I’d like to think the team is a little bit better, and we’ve left it a little bit better than when we came in.
SM: It seems as though UNCG always pops up at the end of the regular-season schedule for a very meaningful game. Talk about how important the win was last weekend and do you feel as though there is a big rivalry building between Elon and UNCG?
CC: It’s always great to beat them. They’re our local rivals, the closet team we play every year geographically. So, a lot of us know a lot of guys on that team. We played with and against them growing up. We played on summer teams with them each summer. So, we’re good friends with them off the field. They are all good guys, but you know the second you step onto the field, it’s a different story. It’s great to play them and I would say we have a pretty good rivalry. Since I’ve been here I think we’ve lost to them twice and beat them twice. It’s been pretty close. We’ve had some good games, some close games. You know it’s always going to be a tough game; whether one team hasn’t won a game all season or not. You know it’s going to be a hard fought game. It was good to beat them this year. Unless we play them in the tournament this weekend that could be the last time I get to play against them. And it was nice to get a win in front of a good crowd.
SM: Defenders don’t often get enough credit for the work they do. You are part of an impressive, experienced back line that has nine shutouts this year. Tell me a bit about why you are so successful and who, if anyone, is the leader that makes everyone gel.
CC: Being a defender, you realize that it’s something you can’t do by yourself. Just on our team we have four out-and-out defenders, but it really takes an entire team to defend and get a shutout; get a zero on the scoreboard for the other team at the end of the game. I would say it’s something that you have to learn and you definitely get better at it over the four years just working together with the three other guys in the back line and the goalkeeper. You have to have a good relationship with them and be able communicate, play together and be connected throughout the game. As far as a leader in the back four, I think without a doubt it is Steven Kinney, our other senior captain, number 18. He’s been the rock in the back since we got here as freshmen. He’s got the most experience on the back line. He really takes control of the game and makes everyone else around him better. It has been a privilege to play with him. I’ve gotten to play with him since we were 15. I’ve gotten a lot of experience and a lot better just playing with him.
SM: This year’s freshman class has already made an impact. Tell me a little bit about this group and how you, as a senior, try to get them ready for the transition to college soccer.
CC: I’ve been really impressed with our freshmen class this season. I think all of them are going to be good players. Some of them haven’t gotten the chance to play mainly because we have so many older players — our senior class is very strong. They have a good work ethic. They come to play every time whether it’s practice or a game. And that’s what we really try to pass on to the new kids every year. College soccer is different than anything. College sports in general are different than anything anyone has ever experienced. You have to pick up your game to a different level every time you’re on the field and you really have to push yourself as hard as you can. And that’s something that is hard to adjust to right away when you come to college and Elon and play for the men’s soccer team here. You need that adjustment time. A couple of them jumped right into their roles and are playing really well. They are going to play a big part in this weekend as well, trying to get a championship and a NCAA berth. I just hope we can pass on what we all as a senior class have taken in since we’ve been here. And three years down the line those guys can pass that on to the next freshman class.
SM: If you were being recruited by Elon right now to come play soccer, what would be the biggest draw to joining this program?
CC: The team camaraderie. We really have a good sense of a team mentality. All of us on the team are best friends. There are no cliques or groups, which is something I’ve never experienced before in any organization or team. I notice that a lot of recruits see that and that they are impressed. It’s really 28 best friends, you can’t find that anywhere else.
SM: Give us a little insight into Coach Powell. What is it like to play for him and how does he motivate this group?
CC: Darren Powell. He’s not like any other coach I’ve met before, that’s for sure. He’s a good motivator, very organized coach, always has everything scheduled down to a T pretty much. Whether it’s warming up at practice or our road trips. He’s one of the best soccer coaches, soccer brains that I’ve ever come across before. He really knows what he’s talking about, and really wants to make you a better player when you are here. I think a lot of college coaches, from what I’ve heard from my friends at other colleges, recruit good players and put them on the field together and don’t really do much. Some of these players I know are not getting much better in their four years of college soccer. I think everyone on this team has grown as a player exponentially. Being around him makes you a better person, a better player.
SM: Is he a big reason as to why you came to Elon?
CC: He is pretty much the reason why I came here. I had a good connection with him. He really showed me that I was wanted here as a player. A lot of other coaches have their own ways of recruiting and players they want they might not show the interest in the way that Darren does. He makes you feel like you are really wanted on the team. He tells you it straight. He tells you what the plans are, how he expects your future as a player to be and what the future of the team will be. When he was recruiting me I caught on to that right away. I got attached to him in that way. At that point, there weren’t really any other options after I started talking to Darren and came up here and saw the school.
SM: Not all soccer teams at this level play a schedule like you all played this year. You played four ACC opponents, including three that were ranked in the top six when you played them. Talk about any advantages there are to playing such strong schedule.
CC: I think a lot of people might think that you are making your year and your schedule a lot tougher than it needs to be; they think you could have more wins at the end of the season if you played some easier teams. I don’t see it that way. I see it as we played against teams that are nationally ranked. We’ve played against the number one, two and three ranked teams as well as many top-ten teams since I’ve been here. I think you can only get better by playing against them. Those are the best teams, best players in the country as voted on by coaches. There’s no doubt that those are the best teams and best players in the country. And if you match yourself up against those teams and players week in and week out, you can only get better. At the same time, it is going to strengthen you to be a better team at the end of the year when you need to be. For example, this weekend at the SoCon Tournament, we are going to play against CofC and potentially UNCG. We hope that teams like UNC, Wake Forest and Duke are going to help set us up at the end of the year and really challenge us and push us for the NCAA Tournament where we might see those teams again.
SM: So, you would say these teams have a large impact on preparing for the SoCon tournament?
CC: Definitely. Your league games are always important; you want to win those because those are the ones that will potentially get you into the tournament later on. But playing against those teams can only make you better. I think a lot of people overlook that aspect, but we definitely don’t because we make our schedule hard.
SM: Is there anything different you do to prepare for a tournament game compared to a regular-season game?
I think a team does. You need to have that mentality and a little more motivation because this could be it for the season or our careers. If that doesn’t motivate you enough to play then you are probably in the wrong sport. It is win or go home. We need to have all the kinks worked out. You prepare a little differently for an elimination game compared to a league game where you have seven games to the championship. Now it is if you lose you’re out. So you do prepare differently, mostly mentally. We try to keep our same routines in practice and travel.
SM: Not that the season is anywhere close to over…but come January, have you thought much about your plans for life after college soccer?
CC: After soccer, I’m planning on getting ready for the real world. I’ll be hanging around school for a little while and finish up my double major and hopefully get a good job. I’m going to miss soccer a lot and playing competitively like I have been. I can’t say I will give up soccer completely. I’m just going to try and stay in shape since I don’t have a regular routine of exercise. Get into the workout routine, go to the weight room with everyone else. I guess just adjusting to life as a non-student athlete. It’s kind of weird to think about. I’m kind of scared. Hopefully I can handle it.
(Courtesy: From The Ashes Blog)