Most Division I college teams are full of upperclassmen who have earned their stripes and learned what it takes to succeed in college athletics.
The Bradley men’s soccer team is bucking that trend.
This season, the Braves have 14 freshmen on a roster of 28 players. Ten of those freshmen are starters or play a significant role for the team.
Coach Jim DeRose said having a roster of full of freshmen presents a unique challenge for him and his coaching staff.
“It’s fun,” he said. “With young kids, there’s a lot of coaching and teaching, but on the other side they are very excited to practice, lift, and train. That exuberance is exciting for me as a coach.”
DeRose went on to say that sometimes the biggest adjustment for freshmen isn’t on the field but in the classroom and that’s where the upperclassmen can help the younger players.
“On road trips I see older guys helping the freshmen with their calculus homework,” DeRose said. “That’s what I like to see.”
Freshman Toni Ramadani has started all five of the team’s games and is tied for second on the team with two goals.
Ramadani said early on he wasn’t sure how much of a role he would play.
“The beginning of the pre-season really left me unsure how much playing time I would get,” he said. “I hadn’t quite adapted to the speed and aggressiveness of the game. However, after weeks of practice, I have become more confident in myself.”
Freshman Ross Williams said the transition from high school to college soccer has been a big one.
“I went from being a key player on my club team to being an average one in college,” Williams said. “It is very exciting though and I have worked hard everyday to get to the position on the team I am now.”
Junior Tommy Fritze said it is the responsibility and part of being a leader for the older players to help the younger guys along.
“The team leadership comes largely from the actions and attitudes of the upperclassmen,” he said. “As many of us have been in the program for two full years and have ample experience of how things need to be done.”
Another freshman, Aodhan Quinn, said the older players help guide the freshmen in the right direction.
“The older players show us how a Bradley soccer player should act,” Quinn said. “We have bonded extremely well and feel more like a family than a team.”
Ramadani said when the team takes the field it doesn’t matter what year in school you are.
“Some older players joke with us about seniority off the field, but everyone agrees that age doesn’t matter between the white lines,” he said.