March 2, 2013 10:36:12 PM
Matt Sykes believed.
The Heritage Academy goalkeeper loves the game of soccer so much and relies on his faith to carry him through uncertain times in his life. Last month, Sykes admits he didn't know where God was going to take him or if he was going to get a chance to continue to play the game he loves. One month later, Sykes was standing in a room with friends and family celebrating the next step in his life.
That next step came in the form of a scholarship offer to play soccer at East Central Community College in Decatur. Sykes signed the National letter of Intent on Friday morning to set his course for the next two years.
"It feels like a dream right now," said Sykes, who had thoughts about going to the University of Alabama to study to become an athletic trainer. He said he will pursue that dream at ECCC, and hopes to be able to stay involved in athletics for years to come.
"It is something I have seen people do, and now it is me doing it. It is really different actually doing it instead of seeing somebody else do it."
Sykes started playing soccer seriously in eighth grade. He said he played five sports that season and then opted to concentrate on baseball and soccer. He said friends and former Heritage Academy teammates Spencer and Sawyer Perkins encouraged him to play soccer, so he decided to focus on the sport.
"I feel like it is going to be a different aspect going in because you're not going to have any weak links at the junior college level," Sykes said. "Coach (Kenneth) Thompson will help me out. He is a great guy, and he has made sure I have everything right. He is ready for me to be there, and I am ready to be there, too."
Heritage Academy boys soccer coach Joe Asadi praised Sykes' ability to stay constant for the past four or five years. He said Sykes loves soccer, has a strong belief, and is a coachable player. Those traits helped him earn a well-deserved chance to play the sport at the next level.
"You have a great deal of players who will be missed a great amount each year when they graduate," Asadi said. "He is going to be one of them. Kids have to go on because it is the next step in their future. I think he will be happy playing in college. I am happy for him."
Asadi said Sykes worked on areas he needed to improve on to realize an opportunity to play soccer in college. He said Sykes' willingness to accept constructive criticism and to work on those areas of his game is a good sign for his future in college.
ECCC went 10-5-3 and 5-2-1 in the MACJC North Division this past season. It earned a share of the North Division title and advanced to the state playoffs for the first time.
Former Heritage Academy standout McGee Ledbetter played at ECCC this past season. He was named All-Region 23 and Region 23 Player of the Year after leading the MACJC in scoring (14 goals, one assist, 29 points).
ECCC coach Kenneth Thompson said Ledbetter recommended Sykes to him and suggested he should look into the possibility of having him join the program.
Thompson said Sykes performed well in goal during his tryout and he offered him a scholarship.
"He could be a forward or a midfielder, whatever the case, because I know he can do that as well," Thompson said. "Versatility is a big plus on his side."
Thompson hopes the team can have an even better season this year. He feels the addition of Sykes will provide depth at goalkeeper and give him added flexibility with his field players. He said Sykes will get a chance to earn playing time at goalkeeper, and that he likes his players to be versatile if they don't win a starting spot.
Sykes said the term "goalkeeper" was listed on his National Letter of Intent, so he aims to go to Decatur intent on competing for playing time. Now that he is a "college soccer player," Sykes said he looks forward to improving as a player and building on a senior year in which he helped anchor the Patriots' defense and led to the team to the first round of the Mississippi Association of Independent Division I tournament.
"I just give it my all and leave the results up to God," Sykes said. "I don't even know what I do half of the time. I feel like I did well. I gave it my all every game, which is what I base it on. As long as I give the glory to God it is a good season for me."