Men’s soccer captain
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
When Kwantlen Polytechnic University made the decision that the 2015–16 season would be the last year their athletics program ran, it broke the hearts of many athletes. For many, it shut down their chance to play at a collegiate level. But for others, it created a new opportunity. Anthony McCullough was one of the students who seized that opportunity.
Having thought his collegiate career was over, the fourth year captain made his last year his best. His team came second at the PACWEST Provincial Tournament, and went to the CCAA National Tournament. Although they came fifth, it was a memory that will likely last a lifetime. Finished with the season, McCullough graduated with a Bachelors in business, and set about settling into the post-college life. However, that life didn’t come to McCullough as he thought it would, and he lingered with his heart in soccer, and his degree in something else.
That’s when coaches Robby Toor and Paul Bahia came calling. A position on the men’s soccer team and a chance to earn a diploma in sports science—where his heart was leading him—was something McCullough couldn’t turn down. But before we really talk about McCullough’s journey to the Royals, we should talk about what led him to the beautiful game to begin with.
Anthony McCullough really doesn’t know the age at which he started playing soccer. Unlike many others, McCullough wasn’t put into soccer camps to find the game; the game found him. As McCullough explains, it was really just chance. “When I was just a kid, my next door neighbour donated me a pair of soccer cleats that were three or four sizes too big for me at the time. My parents used to help me stuff them with newspaper, and I’d go out there and start kicking a ball. Everyone that saw me play said I was a natural, and told my parents to put me in soccer. From there the rest is history.” History indeed, as McCullough’s path forever changed that day.
Now he brings that history with him here, to Douglas College. His goals are already ambitious, but to him, that’s only normal. “It’s my fifth year now. My personal goal is definitely [to] come home with a national gold, and nothing less. I got a taste of what it was like with the KPU squad last year and that was a great accomplishment. But now, I’ve got my eyes on nothing less than a national gold.” But it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows for the fifth-year captain.
The beginning of the pre-season saw a few other KPU players make their way over to the Royals in an attempt to crack the team roster. It wasn’t easy for the players. But as McCullough says, the team has only gotten better since. “The beginning of the pre-season, it didn’t look like the whole outline of how this year was going to work, was going to work at all. At times it looked sloppy and like we were all trying to play our different kinds of styles of soccer. Over time we’ve adapted. We put players in the right positions, the chemistry has been working, and we’re looking to keep thriving off that success.”
McCullough was one of the players that has had to adapt. Originally a centre midfielder, McCullough now plays as a fullback. For some, that transition would have been impossible to make. McCullough has worked hard to fit into his new position, and has impressed his coaches enough to make the first team. However, he doesn’t shy away from admitting the level of difficulty the move has been for him. “At times it’s been stressful for me, but it’s something that I feel is a challenge for me, and I’m one of those guys that performs under pressure. So I’m looking forward to seeing what good things are coming moving forward.”
That sort of attitude is a huge factor as to why he was made the captain for this year’s team. However, that too has been a challenge, as it always has been. “It’s a lot different being captain. You’re not only responsible for yourself, you’re responsible for the whole team as well. It’s definitely been something that, even now, I’m still getting used to.” It is not McCullough’s first time being put in a leadership role, either. During his time with the KPU Eagles, he was their co-captain in his third year, and their captain in his fourth year. Yet every year has thrown a different challenge at him.
This year was no different, as he finds himself in the very unique position of being a captain on a team that he’s just transferred to. “It’s quite the experience. I’m not sure how many people have been in the scenario I’m in, but I think I’m one of the first. It’s a little bit challenging at times because a lot of faces are new, but having some of my former KPU teammates on the team with me makes things a little bit easier. It’s really just about doing what I know. I have to stick to how I lead my team last year, and I just need the rest of the team to buy into the same kind of system.”
Luckily for him, the team has done exactly that. They have bought into his leadership and his system. It seems as though the coaches knew exactly what they were doing when they named McCullough captain, and so far, it’s paid off. This year will be far from easy for the team, as the CCAA silver medalists and PACWEST gold medalists, the Capilano Blues, will likely be in the way of McCullough’s ambitions. But if I’ve learned anything about Anthony McCullough, it’s that he loves a challenge.