The North Duplin men’s soccer team struggled out of the gate last season going 2-5 in its first month. The Rebels finished the season 6-11 overall, with a fifth-place finish in the conference. But change is coming as John Ross Jr. takes the stage as the team’s new coach, replacing Tyler Crawford, who is now coaching at C.B. Aycock.
Ross has a minimal coaching background with his only experience coming from coaching his daughter’s club team. He said that he was “apprehensive at first (about the job), but then quickly saw this as a positive and rewarding challenge both professionally and personally. It did not take me long to sit down and come up with a formation and how to adapt the formation to make the team as competitive as possible. I am very excited to have this opportunity and am looking forward to this challenge.”
The Rebels kicked off their season officially on Aug. 5 and the team has been “going hard” at practice ever since. There’s a new attitude for the Rebels this year and Ross is making sure he sets the tone for what type of team he wants.
“We are focusing on our motto of ‘You play to win the game with respect, dignity, and class.’ The kids know that winning is not easy. You have to go out and earn the victory. With that said, this entails playing hard,” Ross said. “You cannot be successful if you just go through the motions. Also, play your position well. Know your role and what is expected of you and execute it the best you can. Repeat your successes and learn from your mistakes. Play with respect, dignity, and class. I am coaching the players to not engage in any negative play that would cause anyone to question their character. I am coaching them to have respect for themselves, their teammates, and for the game.”
The Rebels will have eight returners this season mixed in with younger talent.
Ross has stressed the importance of every player developing as a leader. “I believe all coaches rely on their upperclassmen, especially the seniors, to be the leaders on the team. However, soccer is a very fluid sport that I need all of my players to be leaders,” he said. “All of my players need to pay attention, stay focused, and make decisions. Any lapse in play or judgment will result in turnovers and/or giving up goals.”
Coach Ross understands his lack of experience could be a red flag for some, but he likes to think of it as an advantage.
“I believe the lack of my soccer experience is the strength of our team. In our parent/player meeting, I informed everyone about my inexperience and that I would be relying on the players to teach me a thing or two about soccer,” Ross said. “So, instead of the players relying on their coach to lead them in drills, it is the coach who is relying on the players to lead them in drills. In practice, I give our players a 15 to 20 minute time period of ‘free play.’ During this period, the players are to work on passing, individual moves, 1-v-1, or 2-v-1 drills. They are also required to scrimmage each other. They pick their teams and chose their positions to play. During this period, I work with our goalie and then observe the scrimmage. And, what I have observed this week in practice was amazing. My players are bonding with one another and coaching themselves.
“I hear them laughing and joking with each other about a play or move as well as complementing each other about a play or move that was made,” Ross said. “I hear them communicating and coaching themselves about passing and moving into space. So, my lack of soccer experience has gained our team confidence and leadership.”
North Duplin will get an opportunity to test that confidence on Aug. 28 when the team travels to Camp Lejeune for a conference matchup against the Devil Pups of Lejeune High School. Kick-off for that matchup will be at 6 p.m.