BOGACZYK: Hopkins, Edginton Enjoying Big Soccer Offseason
Herd rising seniors teaming up in Chattanooga, Tenn.
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- If Marshall soccer coach Bob Gray assigns his players to write a "what I did this summer" essay upon their return to school in August, Jack Hopkins and Nick Edginton will be able to single-space it and still fill multiple pages.
The two Herd rising senior defenders have spent their offseason with Chattanooga FC in the National Premier Soccer League. They won one title, played well into the bracket for another and still have the NPSL playoffs to go.
"It's bene a great experience," Edginton said by phone from Tennessee on Monday. "I've learned a lot from the veteran players here, older guys who were USL Pro players. They've kind of been here before, and their leadership ... you learn from them."
The Herd duo has learned more than the game. They also found out that the southeastern Tennessee city is a soccer hotbed ... where the club's crowds at Finley Stadium -- home of Chattanooga Mocs football in the Southern Conference -- are known as the "Chattahooligans."
"I'd never have believed it if I didn't see it," said Hopkins, of Birmingham, Ala. "It gets so loud, you sometimes can't hear the guy right in front of you ... Those photos you see of the crowds, they don't even do it justice. It's amazing.
"I think a big reason for the team's success is those fans, the amount of support here. It makes you want to play and play harder."
Edginton said if the club "has less than 2,500" Chattahooligans for a game, "that's what's shocking."
Chattanooga is 9-1-1 this season entering tonight's NPSL game against the Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves, with a 5-0-1 record in the NPSL Southeast Division. And the only loss came to the NASL Pro Silverbacks in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup.
Back in May not long after Hopkins and Edginton joined Chattanooga, the team won the Hank Steinbrecher Cup for the U.S. Soccer National Amateur Championship. Edginton and Hopkins were part of a Chattanooga defense that turned in shutout wins over the Michigan Bucks and defending champion Maryland Bays.
In the Open Cup, Chattanooga topped Ocala of the Premier Development League and then the USL Pro Wilmington Hammerheads.
"What impresses me is how well the whole operation is run," said Edginton, of Wellington, New Zealand. "Good staff, good coaching, good facilities, great fans. Before I heard from the coach (Bill Elliott, who also coaches at the University of West Florida), I had no idea this was here. It's pretty impressive."
Edginton and Hopkins are among eight Herd players involved in offseason competition with teams from the NPSL, PDL and Evergreen Premier League. Those leagues -- populated by many collegians who are still amateurs -- rank on the fourth tier of American soccer, behind the MLS, then NASL and USL Pro.
Hopkins had several connections with the Chattanooga club when he was looking for a summer league. His former club coach in Birmingham knew Elliott, and Hopkins' mother, Jill, is an officer with the Alabama Soccer Association.
But Hopkins and Edginton -- roommates in Chattanooga, too -- landed their gig primarily because veteran Herd coach Bob Gray and Elliott have a strong connection in the sport.
"Bob knows everybody," Hopkins said.
Both Marshall players say their Chattanooga experience will help them in their final Herd seasons in 2015.
"For the most part, I'd say (the play in Chattanooga) is a little bit better than in (major) college soccer," Hopkins said. "It's a little bit faster, and you have guys who were in the USL (Pro) coming back to play. I'd say the average age of our team is 25.
"The older guys know what it takes. It's not too different, and we're fortunate in that this is a really good team to play for. Nick and I have been able to fit in really well. It's not like the older players don't accept new people."
Hopkins has played left back -- his Herd position -- and "some left mid" for Chattanooga. Edginton has been at center back in Tennessee, just as he is at Marshall. But the New Zealander said the game is different as he looks up the field.
"We play a different system here," Edginton said. "We play a 4-5-1 at Marshall. Here, it's a 4-4-2, so I'm directing a different style in front of me. It's good in that I'm learning a different formation. That's part of learning while I'm here.
"What I'm picking up from our older players is a lot of communication skills that I will bring back to (the Herd) in the fall. It's been a really good experience for us."
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Besides Hopkins and Edginton in Chattanooga, the Herd has one other NPSL player in senior midfielder Ryan Forde with FC Indiana. Sophomore defender Cory Shimensky plays in the Evergreen Premier League with the Spokane Shadow.
In the PDL, Gray's program has senior defender Matt Freeman with the South Carolina united Bantams, junior midfielder Daniel Jodah with Toronto FC Academy. Sophomore midfielder Christian Kershaw with DC United U23 and junior defender Arthur Duchesne with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds U23.
Marshall also has five players in pro soccer in 2015.