Chasing a Dream
By Andrew Weber
A lot of people said I couldn't do it. “Aim for lower level D1 or D3,” “If you think you can play midfield in the ACC, think again,” “I don’t see you ever being able to play at Virginia Tech.” These are a few of the statements I heard as a player throughout high school and into my freshman year of college, and for a while I believed them too. Fast forward a few years and I am starting for a power five, nationally ranked team on October 20th, 2021. Dreams really do come true.
"A big purpose for the telling of this story is to be an example for a younger generation where it is cool to “not try,” and where being called a “try hard” is considered an insult."
Before we get into my story, I find it important to express why I want to tell it. This is not a story intended to brag about my accomplishments in any way. I felt that my story should be told so that others may be inspired by it. I want kids who have lofty goals to believe in themselves, even when it seems no one else does. No matter how big you dream, if you put your mind to it, it can be accomplished. I’ve been there, I’ve been doubted by people I looked up to, I’ve doubted myself. A big purpose for the telling of this story is to be an example for a younger generation where it is cool to “not try,” and where being called a “try hard” is considered an insult. If you have dreams, stop at nothing before you reach them, as the feeling of accomplishing something that great is unmatched.
My story starts as a ten-year-old. I had been playing soccer for a while at this point, but I had just moved from Wisconsin to Virginia. Back in Wisconsin, I enjoyed always being the best on my team, but now in Virginia, the level was much more intense, and I was no longer the star. It was frustrating at times, but I enjoyed playing with my friends. I was lucky enough to play for the top club team in my area, yet I felt like a mid-level player compared to my teammates. Of course, my competitive nature would not stand for this, so I took it upon myself to put in extra time outside of practice to improve my game.
My big thing was juggling. Even as a young kid, I took joy in being able to have a concrete skill that I could master, making me a better player. I was soon the best juggler on my team, and shortly thereafter I was starting every game as the central midfielder. As the years passed, I stayed the top dog, almost never finding myself on the bench. Because my dream was always to play collegiate soccer, I tried to avoid remaining complacent. But, with nothing and nobody to challenge my starting spot, that became difficult. I had never yet had a coach that doubted me, so life was good, life was comfortable. In 2017, that all changed. Youth club soccer switched its requirements from graduation year to birth year, and my team instantly got much better as we combined the best players from my team and the age group right below us. We also got the coach from the younger age group, and he was the first to truly doubt me.
Throughout this time, I had a lot of success outside of club soccer through the Olympic Development Program (ODP). I had captained the top state ODP team at the national championships in Phoenix, Arizona. I had started for the Region One team in Sarasota, Florida at the Interregional Tournament. I also just recently led my high school to a state championship as a sophomore. My resume looked really good already, and I was excited to see what college coaches would be interested in me as I entered my junior year. Despite these accolades, I was never able to crack the starting lineup in my club team during my junior year. We were a very successful team, we hardly lost a game, and won a state cup that year as well. Even though our team did well, I struggled to get looks from top level college coaches as I was never a consistent starter for the team. This is where the doubts entered.
I heard from many people that I should settle for a mid to low level Division One (D1) or Division Three (D3) team, but I always believed I was good enough to play on a top level Division One team. I always told myself, “I just have to make the team, then I can prove myself.” Still, I believed in myself, I just had to get my foot in the door. That opportunity came as I got to tag along with my two teammates to a college recruiting camp at Virginia Tech. It was a last second decision to go with them, but I figured I would be able to meet the coaches and see if they had any interest. A few kids I played with in ODP and high school were either committed or on the team already, so Tech piqued my interest. I played well at the camp and was invited to come for an unofficial visit with my two teammates. As I spent time with the team and spent time on campus, I realized that I really wanted to go to this school. It was a top engineering school (which was what I wanted to study), the soccer was great, and I really got along with the players on the team. At this point I didn’t even care if I played a minute, I just wanted to be on the team so badly. Unfortunately, as my two teammates received their offers to play in Blacksburg I never got mine. The coaches were not convinced that I had the ability to play. However, the situation would get more promising in January 2018, during the back half of my senior year of high school.
Head Coach Mike Brizendine said if I could get into Virginia Tech as a student, then I would have a chance to walk on to the team the following fall. I was ecstatic. My dream was coming true. I knew there was nothing that could stop me from making the team that fall, and I was extremely grateful for the chance. That summer was one of the best I’ve ever experienced. The freshman class was brought in to take some classes and train for two months before preseason. I got to experience firsthand the 7 a.m. workouts that leave you gasping for air, followed immediately by the rush of getting to class on time, and trying to stay awake for that period of learning. There was never a dull moment in my day, and I felt extremely lucky. As the rest of the team arrived on campus, they welcomed me as one of their own. Never had I ever experienced such a welcome from a group of guys. They were all just happy to be there playing the sport they loved with their best friends. I thought I was right where I was meant to be.
Then preseason came. The first day was terrible. In the morning we ran two fitness tests inside of an hour, the beep test, and the cooper test. The beep test is similar to the one we all ran in high school called the pacer test, but significantly faster and longer. The cooper test is to run two miles in 12 minutes. I passed them both. The afternoon was all soccer - I had never been so tired, but I played well and slept well throughout the night. The next day was another two-a-day. I was keeping up pretty well since I had been training with the other freshmen all summer. I was sure that I was better than a lot of the guys out there, but unfortunately the roster spots were not given to everybody.
After the morning practice on our third day, the coaches were happy to let everyone know that the team gear was in, and everything would be in the players lockers when they got back to the locker room. Before we all dispersed, the coaches asked to meet with the potential walk-ons as everyone else went back to get their gear. I was extremely nervous. I thought to myself, “this is it; this is where he tells me that I earned my spot, that all my work paid off.” To this day I cannot remember the exact conversation. I think I have subconsciously blocked it from my memory, but it was some combination of words that explained how even though I have played well, there simply was no roster spot available for me on the team. The coaches explained that I was able to come back and try out in the spring if I wanted to.
"I told myself I would never try anything that hard again, that it wasn’t worth it. I was a failure."
To say I was devastated would be a gross understatement. I immediately packed everything I needed from my dorm and drove straight home. All the while thinking what a waste the summer was, what a waste it was to put all of this time and effort into achieving a goal and falling short. I told myself I would never try anything that hard again, that it wasn’t worth it. I was a failure. The following days were rough, but I had such a strong support system at home that I was able to recover quickly. I cannot thank my parents, close friends, and two extremely influential coaches, Price Thomas and Dion La Foucade, enough for helping me through that time. That group of people still believed I could play, even though I was told by the coach of the team himself that I couldn’t, and I will forever be in debt to them for that. After a few conversations with my support system, I decided I was not ready to give up on my dream, that I would come back in the spring and make the team this time. That fall I actually trained with the men’s club soccer team and the women’s soccer team. I wanted to stay focused on my goals that semester so I tried to fill my time up with things that would help me towards those goals and to minimize distractions. That winter I trained with La Foucade or Price Thomas nearly every night, trying to better myself in every aspect of the game. I sacrificed a lot of time, all the while in the back of my mind wondering if, again, it would be all for nothing.
The spring arrived quickly, and just like that I was thrown back into the swing of things. All of the guys welcomed me once again and were happy to have me back training with the team. At this point the team were my only college friends, and I could think of nothing more that I wanted then to officially become one of them. I kept up well that spring, only sitting out of one or two training sessions for mild injuries. I even got to play in one of the last friendlies that spring. Even though the game meant virtually nothing, I was extremely grateful to officially play on Thompson Field, where I had been watching the Hokies play for two years now, wishing that one day I would get to play there as well. I expected to hear an answer by the end of that spring of whether I was on the team or not, so as the spring came to an end, I got visibly nervous again.
However, that answer never came, and I was simply asked to come tryout in the fall again. “Uh-oh,” I thought to myself, here we go again. They are going to bring me back for preseason and cut me for what felt like the hundredth time. This go around, I was sure not to get my hopes up. That summer I played on a local National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) team and performed pretty well. By the time I arrived back in Blacksburg that fall, I was in shape and in form. I was going up against players that were younger than me and just as nervous, which certainly helped my confidence. Three days of preseason went by and I was never pulled aside by the coaches, then a week went by. Then two weeks went by. I was given a uniform and was part of the team picture. I even got to play in the first preseason game. Still, I did not get my hopes up. It wasn’t until a couple of days before our first regular season game that I brought it up with Coach Brizendine. During a text conversation, I asked “Is it official that I am on the team?”, “It is” he replied, and I will never forget that day. Never had I felt such a sense of gratitude, so proud of myself that I continued to pursue my passion against all odds.
Since that day I went on to play in five games my sophomore season, 13 games including one start my junior year, and now in my senior year I have played in every single game this season, taking part in our run for an NCAA Championship as we await our next opponent. I have played midfield for a top five ACC team, I was part of the teams that made sweet sixteen runs, and I’ve scored two penalties and a goal along the way.
"Again, the purpose of this story is not to boast or to tell everyone how great I have it, the purpose of this story is to hopefully inspire people to never stop chasing a dream, that you truly can do anything you put your mind to."
Again, the purpose of this story is not to boast or to tell everyone how great I have it, the purpose of this story is to hopefully inspire people to never stop chasing a dream, that you truly can do anything you put your mind to. There was a time when I did not believe that was true, but I will never let myself think that way again. I want to thank my family once more, especially my dad Tom Weber, my close friends including all of the guys on the team throughout those years, particularly Chris Little and Alex Eppard, my soccer mentors, and finally God for helping me reach my goals. I also want to thank the coaches at Virginia Tech Men’s Soccer, Patrick McSorley and Mike Brizendine, for giving me chance after chance to prove myself, as I have thoroughly enjoyed the best four years of my life at Virginia Tech. As I leave the program this year as a proud senior, I know I will never forget my experience as a Hokie and that indescribable feeling of being at home in Blacksburg, Virginia.
“While 32 of our friends and classmates are in heaven trying to explain what a Hokie is, I stand here sure in the fact that I wouldn’t want to be anything else.”
Edited by Ryan Duvall
Photos provided by Andrew Weber