The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Sports

November 20, 2012

Hatfield speaks out

DANVILLE —  If not for a lofty goal set by a then unproven sophomore defender, Danville Vikings soccer coach Chris Griffin might not have known who DeMarion Hatfield was.

Griffin certainly was familiar with Hatfield, and it wasn’t lack of effort that kept him from being noticed. The truth was, he simply didn’t talk much. But a promise made by Hatfield to score 40 goals definitely caught Griffin’s attention.

It was Hatfield’s first year as a member of the varsity soccer team, and he fell well short of the mark. But he didn’t get discouraged. He remained persistent and continued to make the same promise prior to his junior and senior seasons.

“He’s actually made that promise for three consecutive years,” Griffin said. “He came into our summer camp his sophomore year and said, ‘I’m going to get 40 goals this year, coach.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’ll believe it when I see it.’ I said, ‘I need you to prevent 40 goals this year.’

“That’s more of his position. He promised 40, but I would say he saved more than 40 (his senior season). He didn’t let me down because he saved more than he had promised at the other end.”

Despite his joking demeanor, Hatfield remained relatively quiet until this year. As his soccer skills progressed, so did his leadership. The results by his senior year had the 2012 Commercial-News Soccer Player of the Year standing out as one of the most recognizable and outspoken Vikings on the defensive side of the field.

“He really kind of came out of his shell after three years of really not ever hearing him say anything,” Griffin said. “This year, he really stepped up and was very vocal, which is what you need out of that position. He stepped up to do that for us.”

As a center back, Hatfield had no choice but to lead. Griffin lauds the senior captain’s communication skills as a reason for his success in running the team’s defense, and while Hatfield proved he was more than capable of taking on the role, his job was made much tougher in his final campaign. The loss of three key players, really before the season got started, put a damper on the Vikings’ initial expectations, and forced a number of players to step up.

When the season began, the Vikings’ roster once filled with talent and promise quickly began to dwindle. One senior expected to fill a starting role chose to not play, and another departed in favor of fine-tuning his skills with a U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy team in St. Louis.

As if that wasn’t enough of a hit, junior Eziquio Flores played only a handful of games before being sidelined for the season with an injury.

“As a team, we knew we had to pick it up,” Hatfield said. “For me, I knew we had to stay strong on defense for the team. I knew if we could have our seniors play good, the rest of our team should play good. That’s what we were looking for this year.

“I knew that even without them, we could still do good if we all stayed on the same page and worked hard. We didn’t have the best season, but we still did good for what we had.”

After starting the season 1-5-3, the Vikings lost only three of their last 10 contests. Once again, it came down to communication on the field, and a willingness of the team to put group success before individual honors.

“At the beginning of the year, I think we were hurting missing those players,” Hatfield said. “Towards the end of the year, we were used to not having them, and people were starting to pick up each other. I think that really helped because everybody was helping each other and being supportive. That was a big key for us only losing three games at the end of the year.”

Griffin had no doubt that Hatfield would be able to effectively fill his role as captain and help the Vikings grow as a collective unit. He had already seen it multiple times in practice from the senior defensive leader.

“He was the most vocal player that we had, by far,” Griffin said. “And really, it was that way in practice. I would stop practice periodically, but when we would play small-sided games, DeMarion’s team would win no matter who I put on his team probably 90 percent of the time, just because he was always talking, always communicating, and made everybody around him better. (He) made everybody around him more aware of their surroundings and the situation by his constant communication.”

Though the potential was there, Hatfield’s progression on the field might have come more rapidly than expected. He grew up playing both soccer and basketball, but unlike many of his peers, didn’t make a full commitment to the sport until after his freshman year at Danville High. That’s when the mother of teammate Mac Leverenz suggested Hatfield try playing with the Little Illini club team. It was Hatfield’s first exposure to soccer outside of Danville Soccer Association or high school competition.

“With him not playing the traveling soccer, he was not exposed to the higher level of competition and higher level of training,” Griffin said. “He just didn’t get that early on like some of the kids get. When he did get to step up and play a little bit better soccer, he got better each and every game. His mannerisms on the practice field were the same as they were in the game. He worked to get better everyday. He was one of the hardest-working kids that we had on the team in everything you could ask for, just in his work ethic and drive to get better.”

His drive brought him to once again make the same lofty promise to Griffin this year. Hatfield was moved forward on occasion in situations where the Vikings wanted to press more in the offensive zone, but his scoring opportunities were limited. Though he knew the prospects were unlikely, he wanted to prove his dedication and make his senior year one he wouldn’t forget.

“I wanted to score 40,” Hatfield said. “I told coach I’d get him 40, but I guess five is good enough. Playing sweeper, I’m used to saving goals, so to score some goals was really nice.”

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