Sept. 25, 2013
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - There are few players who would voluntarily remove themselves from the offensive spotlight for a life in the less-public, workman position of defender on the soccer pitch. In Casey Adkins, Golden Eagle coach Mohammed El-Zare found just such a person.
Adkins, an offensive-minded midfielder through high school and her first two years at Southern Miss, answered the call to move to center back when El-Zare issued the call.
"In the spring, we didn't have a center back," El-Zare recalled. "Casey was the first to step up and say, `Coach, I think can do that. I want to try.' But what I've learned is that is hey type of player, the type of person, she is."
The results couldn't have been better.
Through 10 matches, the Golden Eagle defense has held opponents to 13 goals and 54 shots on goal en route to a 6-2-2 mark in nonconference play. Conversely, Southern Miss has scored 37 goals off of 118 shots on goal.
Still, the question begs of the newly-appointed center back and native of Mandeville, La., do you miss the limelight that goal-scorers typically enjoy?
"Stopping the other team is a reward in itself," Adkins said. "When I played (midfield), the goal was to score. What I enjoy about center-back is that the challenge is to hold the other team to zero. It's a chance to be competitive either way."
The Golden Eagles have held exactly half, five, of their opponents scoreless in 2013, something the veteran Adkins attributes to a culture instilled by the new coach.
"It's an attitude," Adkins said. "In the past, we didn't lack talent, but we lacked attitude. The organization is a lot better this year. Team camaraderie is really great. Coach Mo is putting us in the right spot to be successful. Even if some of us were not used to the position, he knew it was the right fit for us and gave us a chance. And I think he helped us find our passion again. Some of us had lost that."
El-Zare gives credit to veterans like Adkins for the success.
"Casey is a fierce and relentless competitor in terms of work ethic and energy," El-Zare said. "She stays positive at all times. When it's the middle of the game and the pressure is on, she will give you a smile and all of a sudden, everything is fine. She brings such a positive energy and that helps us fight no matter the situation or the odds."
El-Zare also points out that Adkins, who in addition to being a soccer player is enrolled in the challenging and work-intensive nursing program at Southern Miss, is competitive in all walks of life.
"As much effort as you see on the field and in practice, you see in the classroom," El-Zare said. "She is the embodiment of what we look for in a college athlete, the total student-athlete."
Adkins and the Golden Eagles will look to build on their positive strides in nonconference play as they begin Conference USA competition later this week. The first C-USA match is Friday night at 7 in Denton, Texas, where Southern Miss will face the North Texas Mean Green.