December 10, 2012 10:27:00 PM
The epiphany didn't come easily.
For many players, it doesn't come at all.
But this season has been different for Ricky Hackler.
Instead of being someone who believes his years of playing youth and club soccer set him apart, the Columbus High School senior midfielder has adopted a new attitude. The change has transformed Hackler into a more positive and encouraging team leader.
Oh yeah, Hackler is still scoring goals.
Hackler delivered one of his best games of the season Friday, scoring a goal and assisting on another by Christian Dale to help Columbus beat Caledonia 2-1. The victory was the Falcons' first against the Confederates since the 2008-09 season.
For his accomplishment, Hackler is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"I would say this is the most fulfilling win since I have been on the team," Hackler said. "The record is one of the best we have ever had since I have been on the team, too."
Hackler also had a goal in a 2-1 victory against the Mississippi School for Math and Science on Dec. 3 in Columbus. His two goals and one assist pushed his total to a team leading 11 goals and two assists (23 points). Hackler and Columbus (8-2) will try to improve on those totals tonight when they play at West Point. The match was originally scheduled for Monday but was postponed due to rain.
Columbus coach Ben Moore has watched Hackler mature the past three seasons. He said Hackler who started playing soccer when he was 4 years old and has played club soccer in Starkville and in Tupelo, always has been a "great kid" who is skilled and intuitive when it comes to tactics and technique. This season, he said Hackler has learned to trust his teammates, which has enabled the team to blossom.
A perfect example came against Caledonia. Moore said Hackler could have taken a shot from inside the 18-yard box, but he opted to lay the ball off the Dale, another senior, who converted an easier scoring chance to give the Falcons the victory.
"It was a very unselfish play, which is indicative of what he has shown this year," Moore said.
Hackler said he has made a conscious effort to be more positive and to be a nurturing leader who assists younger players. He feels his approach has been different and it has had a direct impact on the squad.
"I am sure you have heard this before, you cannot win with one player. It is definitely a team game," Hackler said. "That has made me a better player. College don't look at individual skill. They see how you want to play with the team, and that is something I have definitely done more this season."
In previous years, Moore said Hackler likely would have taken the scoring load on his shoulders and tried to do it himself. Moore said Hackler often tried to do too much. Now, though, he sees a player who realizes the importance of making soccer an 11-player effort to maximize the team's chances for success.
"His skill level is fantastic, but in soccer if you're not going to use your team we're not going to be effective as a team," Moore said. "He has really embraced the concept of utilizing the rest of the team."
Hackler credits Moore for his energy and his constant encouragement. He feels Moore's leadership has set the tone and helped the program reach the heights it has attained this season.
Hackler's change in thinking has helped him raise his game to another level. Moore said something similar can be said about the Falcons. Three years ago, Hackler was one of only a few players with any experience. Even with 11 seniors this season, Columbus still doesn't have the numbers of players with extensive club experience as other tradition-rich programs in the state. Still, he said the progress the program has made reflects the growth all of the player have made, and how they have learned to work together.
Moore feels Hackler, who is 5-foot-6, 135 pounds, has the potential to play at the next level. He said Hackler already has attracted interest from several junior colleges in the state, and is confident he will be able to continue his soccer career at the next level.
"If someone does not pick Ricky up to play they would be heartbroken and look back on it as a huge mistake," Moore said. "Academically, he will be able to offer them his services without them wasting a sports scholarship and be able to contribute on the field. He is very coachable and is someone they would be remiss if they don't take him."
Hackler realizes he has changed as a player, and he wants to keep it going. He wants to make the changes permanent because he likes the way it has helped him and his teammates play.
"My attitude wasn't the best before, and now I have this attitude as a team player and everybody is working together, that will make everybody feel better," Hackler said. "I am feeling a lot better, and I play a lot better when I feel better."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.