January 10, 2013 1:47:13 AM
Ricky Hackler knew his day was coming. The Columbus High School senior just didn't know it would be here so soon.
The quickness with which Hackler realized the next step on his athletic and academic journey didn't take away from the sweetness of the moment.
On Wednesday, Hackler signed a scholarship to play soccer for Itawamba Community College in the Columbus High gym.
"I am still shaking from the experience," Hackler said nearly two hours after the signing ceremony. "It was such a surreal moment. Ever since I was really young playing soccer, I expected to go somewhere in soccer. ... It definitely is on the track to a dream come true. I am really excited to get in there and see what it is like."
ICC's Mike Sullivan, who coaches the men's and women's soccer team at the school, said Hackler is one of eight players from the Tupelo Futbol Club he hopes to add to the program next season. He said all of those players have great opportunities to see significant playing time next season because he figures to return a young team after this season.
Sullivan said Hackler, all 5-foot-7, 134 pounds, should have a chance to use his speed, quickness, and technical ability to crack the starting lineup.
"We have seen him play the last year and a half or so," said Sullivan, who was at Columbus High on Wednesday with assistant coach Cody Carson. "(Ricky) is not a big guy. He doesn't catch your eye right off the bat, but once you watch him play for a while, you can see the way he sees the game and the field during the game and see the things he can do skill wise.
"He has a good shot, and he is what I call one of those small guys who plays way above his size."
Sullivan said Hackler's soccer skills were just part of the equation. He said it didn't take long for him to realize Hackler also was a quality student with a great family, which convinced him to offer him a scholarship.
"We never tell anybody they're guaranteed being a starter, but we're expecting him to start," Sullivan said. "If he does what we know he is capable of doing, he will be a starter somewhere in the midfield. Figuring out where each one fit best is going to be the trick."
Hackler also has some decisions to make. He said he is interested in studying engineering, possibly computer engineering, and minoring in business. He decided ICC was the best fit after taking time to research other schools that expressed and interest in him, including Holmes C.C. In the end, he said everything about ICC convinced him staying closer to home was the best option.
Hackler realized he would have to make that call one day. It was especially satisfying to make that choice sooner rather than later, especially for someone whose physical attributes might not have helped him attract attention.
"My size has always been a problem when people are not necessarily observing a game," Hackler said. "I know it shouldn't change too much, so I focused on the other things I can, such as speed. I have worked on my speed for so long, and skill and the other things, such as passing and being able to control the ball when I might not be able to win it in the air, and aggression. If I am aggressive, have speed and control and can pass, I think I will be fine."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.