Ministers' sons make great goalkeepers and community servants

Sept. 28, 2010

On the soccer field, goalkeepers are the last line of defense.

But most any student of the game will confirm that the best keepers are leaders.

"I would agree with that," UC Santa Barbara keeper Sam Hayden said. "We're the quarterback on the field, so to say. We're in the back and we can see everything that's going on in front of us. We have to direct our players, let them know where people are at, where runners are coming through, what to do next ... I would say that we're natural leaders. I think it comes with the position."

That idea is backed up by a look at the candidates for the 2010 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. Hayden is one of seven goalkeepers among the 30 NCAA Division I seniors up for the honor, quite a percentage considering there's only one on the field at a time.

What differentiates these keepers is that their leadership extends beyond the game - the Senior CLASS Award recognizes excellence in community, classroom and character in addition to competition.

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The keeper's role is two-fold: Put others in position to succeed, but be prepared to handle matters yourself if necessary. For Syracuse's Jeremy Vuolo, that could describe his time playing soccer or just life in general. Three years ago during his sophomore year at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., Vuolo found it necessary to make some changes.

"I had a turning point halfway through my sophomore year when I realized I needed to be making that positive impact on those around me," said Vuolo, the son of a pastor from Downingtown, Penn. "And at that point, I decided I wanted to do everything I could do to help others.

"It was an `a-ha' moment. To be honest, I was hanging out with the wrong people, I was doing the wrong things and my life was suffering for it. I saw it in a negative way - my schoolwork was suffering, I wasn't the best athlete I could be. All areas of my life were really being affected because of the decisions I was making."

One of the first things he did was start a Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Hartwick.

"I didn't think I'd get any response from the campus," he recalled of planning the first meeting. "I was expecting maybe two or three people to come for the free pizza." But 15 athletes showed up for the inaugural meeting, and the group has grown to more than 30.

"From there, as I continued to try to set up community service and work with the community on certain projects, I found that people are waiting to be led. They want to do things. They want to reach out and help," said Vuolo, whose friend, former Penn State forward Jason Yeisley, won last year's Senior CLASS Award - they were teammates with the USL Premier Development League's Reading Rage for two seasons. "But they might be too shy or they might not have the initiative or they might not know what to do to help or where to go.

"So once you come along and say `Hey, listen, let's get going, let's do this, this and this, I set up this plan, let's go achieve it,' it surprised me how readily people were willing to jump on board and go along with you."

And away they went.

Vuolo organized the "Hartwick Hill Race," which raised more than $3,500 for the Family Resource Network, a local group that provides financial assistance to families with special needs children. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes group put together "Operation Christmas Child" to gather toys, food, clothes, soccer balls and cleats for underprivileged children in foreign countries, and raised more than $300 for an orphanage in Haiti.

"As college students, a lot of kids are coming from the cities and a lot of kids have a lot of wealth, but they're not really reaching out to those impoverished around us to help," said Vuolo, who had a 0.92 goals-against average and 18 shutouts in 53 games at Hartwick over three seasons and was the Mid-American Conference Goalkeeper of the Year and team MVP in 2009. "So I wanted to really do what I could to get others to walk alongside me and help the community."

He graduated with a degree in business administration in May 2010, recording a 3.3 grade-point average, and is now pursuing a master's degree in the finance program at Syracuse's Martin J. Whitman School of Management - he had one season of NCAA eligibility remaining because he redshirted as a freshman at Hartwick.

Vuolo is planning to coordinate three community service projects this semester at Syracuse, but hasn't yet finalized the details. After school, his goal is to use his business acumen to help the church, become a pastor or missionary and eventually pursue a seminary degree.

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The odds seem stacked against the goalkeeper: One man to protect 192 square feet of goal. No wonder Sam Hayden has excelled in the position. He's been beating the odds for years.

Hayden wasn't highly recruited coming out of Jackson Hole, Wyo., which isn't known as a soccer hotbed. He started his career at Yavapai College, a junior college in Prescott, Ariz. And it took a break for him to get there.

A four-sport athlete in high school, Hayden was deemed too small to play college football - he was 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds - and too short for college basketball.

He hooked up with a club soccer team based in Utah, but was going to miss the first game of a tournament in Portland, Ore., because of a basketball game the night before. Two seats opened up on an earlier flight, Hayden decided to take one of them and made that early match - the only one in which Yavapai coaches would have been able to watch him.

He impressed the coaches that day and continued to do so. In two seasons at Yavapai, Hayden helped the Roughriders compile a 50-2-0 record and win back-to-back National Junior College Athletic Association Division I national championships in 2007 and `08. He was named the NJCAA Goalkeeper of the Year both years.

How did he end up at UC Santa Barbara, one of the country's top college programs? Once again, it took a little good fortune, but when he got the chance, he made the most of it.

Credit Gauchos defender Evan McNiel, Hayden's friend and roommate, with the assist.

"UCSB was looking at him all through high school," Hayden said of McNiel, who also was his teammate at Yavapai. "They came out for a game, called him and said, `Hey, we're looking for a goalkeeper. Do you have anyone in mind?' He mentioned my name and I ended up playing extremely well that game."

Last fall, in his first season with the Gauchos, he set the school and Big West Conference records with 16 shutouts and had multiple scoreless stretches of more than 500 minutes. Hayden was the conference Goalkeeper of the Year and a first-team All-Big West selection.

"It's been a dream come true, really," he said of his career.

In addition to his perseverance and ability, Hayden has gotten involved in the community. He volunteered his time as a personal goalkeeping trainer while in Arizona and coaches and referees youth soccer matches, and was the tournament director for the Santa Barbara Fiesta Tournament last summer.

His commitment to giving back stems from trips he made with groups from the Presbyterian Church - his father is a minister in the church. They made a trip to Mexico to build a small, one-bedroom house for a family, and ended up building a second one next door. The next year, they were off to Tennessee, where they rebuilt much of a house ravaged by termites.

In both cases, Hayden and the group bonded with the families, who were incredibly appreciative of the group's efforts.

"It was an experience where you get chills. It's something that makes your heart drop and lose your breath when something like that happens. It just brings tears to your eyes. It was incredible," Hayden said. "It's really something that has stuck with me over the years, to really enjoy what I have and be thankful for everything in my life."

Like Vuolo, Hayden eventually plans to turn his attention to the church and continue helping the less fortunate. Before that, though, he'd like to make another stop on his soccer journey and play professionally.

That would mean even more phone calls for Dave DeFazio.

Hayden calls DeFazio, who was his coach when he was a sophomore in high school, before every game. The former coach tells him "Be a wall," and the routine helps calm Hayden's nerves.

"Every single time I get on the field, I get extremely nervous to do well and try to be perfect for my team," he said. "But perfection can never happen, so I try to settle for the best that I can do."