By Jonah Peterson
Since taking over the head coaching job for the NAIT Ooks men’s soccer team in 2012, Charles O’Toole has been tasked with not only improving the teams on field performance, but also ensuring his players remain focused on their academics.
“Soccer is just a byproduct,” said O’Toole. “They should be here, first and foremost for their education. Their chance to play soccer is a byproduct that allows them benefits like scholarships to help pay for school a little bit and hopefully they can build a career.”
O’Toole has implemented some strategies to ensure this.
“What we’re doing now is they must come back with a weekly report sheet, signed by their instructors, saying that they have attended class. This way I can stay on top of their marks and make sure that they are showing up to all their classes.”
This year, nearly two-thirds of the men’s soccer team are first-year NAIT students.
“We’re a young team. We have a lot to learn, but I think if we remain together and these guys stay over the next two to three years, we can be a very strong team.”
Matthew Zima is one of O’Toole’s three third-year players and played an integral role in the Ooks’ success last year.
“Last year he had a fantastic season – he was the top goal scorer in the country. He showed great leadership and once again from the start of training camp he’s brought that.”
O’Toole looks at his role as head coach as being more than just building a set of high-performing soccer players.
“The fact that I’ve been a NAIT player here before and played at a really high level, I’m hoping to instill that mindset into my players and hopefully make them better people holistically, not just as soccer players.”
For the first time in his ACAC career, NAIT forward Matthew Zima has been named one of the captains for the men’s soccer team. Having been on the team for 3 years now, Zima is excited to lead a team that he thinks has a lot of promise.
“Were pretty good. We’ve been bonding well together,” said Zima. “Last game was tough going two men down, but we stuck together, and I think it was an important bonding moment for the team. It’s pretty promising right now.”
Zima had a very strong season last year leading the league in scoring, and believes his ability to lead on the field is what made head coach Charles O’Toole select him as captain.
“I know what it takes to get to nationals, especially after last year. I know what Charles’ demands are, and I feel we have a lot of young guys that need to be led the right way.”
Matthew is no stranger to soccer.
“I’ve been playing since I was 4,” he said. “I loved watching soccer as well, I was a big fan of Dortmund, a club in Germany, growing up, and I’ve always watched the [English Premier League] on the weekends. I’ve just always loved soccer.”
Of course, being a student, Zima also has to make sure he keeps up with his studies, but he still manages to juggle the demands that come with being a student athlete.
“Our practices are later, which gives us time after class to get stuff done before, and when we go on trips, we make sure to block off sections where we can do homework and study. If you manage your time well, it’s nothing too difficult.”
For first-year player Abraham Jones, soccer has always been a family tradition.
“My dad played, so it’s kind of like a family sport,” he said. “I try to follow my father’s footsteps.”
Jones has found it easy to keep that love of soccer alive because of his teammates.
“It’s a fun group of guys. Behind the scenes we really get along, and we all have a common goal to win nationals.”
Jones may be a rookie at NAIT, but he brings plenty of experience, having played for FC Edmonton’s under 20 team and finishing second in the Alberta Major League.
“It was another great group of guys. I think the experience I gained from my teammates especially is going to help me on this team.”
Jones has high hopes for the team this year, and he believes head coach Charles O’Toole is a great coach to play for.
“He really pushes us and we’re going to need that throughout the season and into nationals.”
Jones is currently upgrading in biology and hoping to move onto kinesiology. Jones says being a student athlete means having to work a little harder than the average student.
“You have to find that extra time,” he said. “Doing homework at home or taking time at school to get work done before games or practices… It’s also important to use the resources the school has, like tutors, when I need it.”