Leadership, Discipline, & Community – The Night Hawk Way

| November 20, 2014


Jason Hendrix, Thomas University Sports Information Director:

American entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker Jim Rohn once stated, “All good men and women must take responsibility to create legacies that will take the next generation to a level we could only imagine.” These words summarize what has been a patient, deliberate, and planned growth for the Thomas University men’s soccer program since early 2005.

Today, the fruits of the program’s labor are showing on and off the pitch and have now started to invoke tradition, pride, and excellence that have placed a foundation for years to come. The Night Hawks men’s soccer program has placed three key cornerstones (leadership, discipline, and community) into their focus that have become the grounding and pathway to its current successes and program’s growth and direction moving forward.

image001 (5)Leadership is the backbone of any potential success or failure that is exhibited in daily life. Whether it is on the field during practices, conditioning, or games or in the classroom and study halls, that value is where it all begins. In March 2005, Athletic Director Mike Lee hired current head men’s soccer coach Ricky Zambrano. Zambrano, who served as an assistant coach at Louisiana State University from 2002-2005, brought a wealth of knowledge, success, and leadership to a struggling program that had more negatives than positives to boast.

Patience, in the beginning, was a term that was frequently used. The program lacked consistency for several years now, and Zambrano saw it as an opportunity to break things down and rebuild from scratch while keeping as much of the program’s history in tact as possible. “From the beginning, winning was never the focus,” stated Zambrano. “Our goal was purpose driven and through that, winning would come in time. Winning is a by-product of doing a lot of things the right way, and that was the goal.”

Centering coaching philosophies are a critical part of building a successful program. Zambrano decided at the beginning that strong leadership was the key. He hit the ground running inheriting student-athletes from the previous coaching staff that showed promise and potential in the program’s growth. Student-athletes, such as Srdjean Smiliski (’06), Jonothon Carroll (’07), and Tallahassee native Josh Bruno (’07), helped begin the culture shift stepping into and accepting new expectations and leadership roles within the program. Zambrano’s core group of student-athletes over the seasons, consisting of Tallahassee native Jono Williams (Class of ’09), Jan Feldman (’10), current athletic assistant coach Eddie Foy (’12), current athletic assistant coach Nathan Would (’13), and Andi Hoffer (’14), helped establish and grow the foundation of the team’s new culture.

Would, a 2012 NAIA All-American Second Team selection, believes the program has made many leaps and bounds from his time as a player and now as a coach. “It is staggering to think how much the program has grown and developed over the last few years,” he proclaimed. “It has been a pleasure and privilege to be part of something so special since my arrival on campus in August 2009.”

image001 (5)In 2007, Thomas University named Dr. Gary Bonvillian as its new President. The new administration played a significant role in the development of the program. After two years with the team, Zambrano began to see significant shifts in the university’s growth and flare. Athletics-based decisions made AD Lee were being supported by Dr. Bonvillian leading to the provision of resources, increased funding, staffing, and vision for the department’s potential growth in the future.

After years of recruiting strong leaders for the program, the tide began to turn. In 2011, Zambrano launched a formalized leadership group within his program. This group empowered the student-athletes to make decisions, with Zambrano’s final approval, that placed the best interests of the program in the forefront of their mind. The next year, formal leadership training was implemented for the core group of the team’s leaders. This training provided the group the necessary tools and resources to lead the program to its current state in 2014.

Discipline was the next pillar of success the program had to implement and, in time, overcome the previous culture of past seasons. “In 2005, the task at hand was to work hard to provide the community a program they could be proud of,” added Zambrano. “We wanted to give them something positive to talk about and build upon.” The journey was not easy for the Night Hawks. Everything that reaches success has to start from somewhere, and Zambrano believed that the low point was now and that that was where it was going to remain, in the past.

On March 15, 2005, the team held its first meeting and laid the guidelines and path for where the program was going to go and what it took to get there. While some student-athletes were skeptical at first, those who bought in completely shaped the framing for years to come. Zambrano persisted, “It is our belief that discipline off the field leads to discipline on field.” Being said, the squad has placed a greater focus on academic success. The team’s overall grade point average has risen from 2.7 in 2007 to 3.2 this season. Since 2010 when the team’s overall G.P.A. first reached the 3.0 mark, the program has averaged 12 wins a season. The Night Hawks’ success in the classroom has greatly impacted their success on the field as well. Since it joined the Sun Conference in 2012, the team is 21-6-3 in conference play and is 10-1-1 in its last 12 games against Top-25 ranked opponents. This season alone, the Night Hawks reached the NAIA’s No. 1 ranking twice and were in the top five in six of the nine weeks of National Polls.

Zambrano continued, “I believe that young men and women who are college age need to be around quality role models on a daily basis. Some lose that when they leave home. Here, they have the opportunity through our local community to have that. In 2005, this community opened its arms to Brandee (wife) and me. Over the years, the Thomasville community has opened its arms to our two kids as well. Most importantly, it has embraced and opened its doors to our student-athletes and have been there for those who are local and for those who have made the journey to South Georgia from halfway around the world.”

Freshman Mid Fielder Jonathon McGrath

Freshman Mid Fielder Jonathon McGrath

The Thomasville community as a whole has become a fixture of focus in Zambrano’s three-tiered system. In 2008, a strong and ever-growing relationship between Thomas University and Goalline Ministires was enhanced. While this relationship originates to the early 2000s, the third of Zambrano’s tenure at TU was the sparking point that has led to its current status and relationship today. Goalline Ministries is a non-denominational organization that provides serves such as their Adopt-a-Student program, Survivor, mission projects, and team devotions. It creates a safe place where students and student-athletes can be themselves and grow in community with each other. In particularly, the Adopt-a-Student program has helped connect the student-athletes with strong role models from our local community and has given them a closer sense of being “home.” The Thomasville community as a whole has shown its true southern hospitality by supporting kids from around the world.

“We are extremely proud of the results from our men’s soccer team, not only on the field, but in the classroom and community as well,” commented Lee. “The coaching staff has worked hard to provide an environment where the athletes can excel both as students and citizens. The program has come a long way and shifts towards becoming a beacon of light for Thomas University. We look forward to great things in the future.”

The Night Hawks enter the NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship Opening Round with a confident demeanor and focus after capturing the Sun Conference championship in the TSC final 2-1 over regular season champion Savannah College of Art & Design. The 31-team field consists of 22 conference champions, eight at large bids, and the host, Northwood University.

The 11th-seeded Night Hawks will host Appalachian Athletic Conference champion, St. Andrews University, in the Opening Round of the tournament at the TU Soccer Complex on Saturday, Nov. 22.

“All of us at Thomas University are extremely proud of our men’s soccer,” declared Dr. Bonvillian. “Their performance this year, with the guidance of Coach Ricky Zambrano and his assistants, has been exemplary. Not only are they conference champions and are going to nationals, but they are also making Thomas University history. In addition to extraordinary coaching, this team is intense and determined to win. It has shown time and time again throughout the season.”

First touch is set for 12:30 p.m. Prior to the game, Student Life will be hosting a tailgate party at the TU Soccer Complex at 11:30 a.m. and will be serving hotdogs and drinks. The department welcomes all to this event. Admission is free to the game and tailgate and fans are encouraged to show up and support their Night Hawks in their journey to the NAIA National Championship.

VSU Advances to Round 2; Tops UNA 33-31
Lady Blazers Lose to Ft. Valley State

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