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Fri, Sep

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Indiana University and Rashad Hyacenth were a match more than 30 years in the making.

Never mind the more than 2,500 miles between Bloomington and the first-year Hoosier's hometown in the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

More than a dozen years before the Belmont University transfer forward was born, a foundation for the future was laid on a field in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

It was 1983, and coach Jerry Yeagley's Hoosiers were taking aim at a second consecutive national championship. The only team standing in their way was undefeated and top-ranked Columbia, which included a young sophomore by the name of Dexter Skeene.

After the two teams played to a scoreless draw through regulation and the first overtime, Pat McCauley gave Indiana the lead less than three minutes into the second overtime. But the remaining seven-plus minutes still had to be played, as overtime was not a golden-goal affair.

Despite the IU defense keying on Skeene, the young attacker had the best chance to tie the game on a header with less than two minutes remaining, but the ball hit a teammate on the way to an otherwise open goal, and time ran out on the Lions as Indiana celebrated.

Skeene, who would go on to make 13 appearances and score four goals for the Trinidad and Tobago national team, was close friends growing up with Joel Hyacenth.

The two men remained close, co-founding the SKYH Futbol Club in Trinidad, where they still live, and when Skeene was named head coach of the Trinidad and Tobago women's national team from 1996-98, Hyacenth was one of his assistants.

In 1995, Joel's wife Glennis gave birth to a baby boy who would grow up hearing often of that close call with Indiana from a man he called his uncle, blood relation or not.

"He still has all the pictures back home, so I still see him crying after the defeat to IU," Rashad says with a big smile.

It seems like Rashad Hyacenth always has a big smile on his face.

Quick with a joke, eager to please and driven to succeed — all traits he's carried with him from his hometown of D'Abadie, Arima, to Belmont University and now to Indiana.

"He's shown from a youngster that he's a winner. He likes to win," Joel Hyacenth said of his son. "He's very passionate. That's the way he's always been. Whatever he's doing, he's very passionate. He's not going to do things he doesn't like."

What Rashad clearly liked from the start was soccer in a country where "futbol," cricket and track and field are the three most popular sports.

"When I was born, (my dad) threw a little ball in my crib," Rashad said, "and he was like, 'Take that,' and I never let the ball go."

For Joel, the moment he knew his son's future came during the 1998 World Cup, as the 3-year-old sat transfixed in front of the television.

"When you look at a 3-year-old in front of the television, watching an entire game without moving, that says something to me as a coach, as a father, as a man," Joel said. "It says this child has a love for this game."

That love grew as Rashad tagged along while his father coached, and his father tagged along as his son played.

It wasn't only his father that influenced Rashad's personality and priorities, but also his mother.

"Rashad is an exact combination of his mother and father," Joel said. "Some things, you can see his mother in him. There are times you see (me) in him. The way he tries to hold himself, he might be remembering his mom doing that.

"So I would say he probably works with the fact that he has seen me, seen his mother and probably has those qualities that come out."

It's a self-professed imitation.

"My role model is my father, the most hard-working guy I know," Rashad said. "I look up to him in every aspect of life.

"… I come from a Christian background — my mom was very, very religious, so I just try to bring people closer to God as much as I can, and hopefully through my exuberance, they'll feel better and get closer to God as well."

That exuberance and faith has not gone untested, however.

In 2012, Glennis Hyacenth died following a battle with cancer, leaving behind Rashad, a high school junior, and his two younger sisters.

"I didn't want to show any emotion, didn't want to cry," Joel said. "I wanted to be a strong man. If I didn't cry, I thought I'd be alright and (Rashad) would be alright.

"But I guess he did gain strength from it. (My wife) was very, very spiritual. Talking about God and so on, he handled it pretty well. We still talk about it openly and understand what has happened and what will happen. I think he's done extremely well."

The evidence is in the perspective Rashad displays. Asked by one media member, "Who is Rashad Hyacenth?", the answer was straightforward, yet powerful when you know the circumstances.

"I'm just a regular guy," Rashad said, again flashing that contagious grin. "I have life, so I have nothing to be sad about, I have nothing to be scared about. Once I have life, I'm just willing to smile and make others smile around me. That's me."

And should he ever need a reminder, Joel is happy to provide one such as he did on Sunday afternoon after the Hoosiers' frustrating 0-0 draw with Northwestern.

"He called me after the game and was very upset," Joel said. "I said, 'You got one point, you could've gotten none. There's nothing you can do.'

"That's how I look at life, move on and make it better the next time. Everyone has to look at it that way. What's done is done, and that's life."

That approach was also vital when Rashad finished high school and found himself at another fork in the road.

The coach at Belmont University had been college roommates with a coach in Trinidad. He told that coach he was looking for an attacking player, and that coach in turn spoke to Rashad about heading to the United States.

The parting that followed came as no surprise to Joel.

"I had been prepared for this since (Rashad) was 3," he said. "This opportunity he wouldn't get in Trinidad, so he had to get a scholarship to play soccer (in America)."

It was the first step toward the ultimate destination for Rashad, who made the Horizon League All-Freshman Team in 2014 and earned second team All-Horizon League as a sophomore in 2015. But he wasn't satisfied.

"He called and said, 'Dad, I am unhappy. The players, the coaches have no passion,'" Joel recalled. "He said, 'I am leaving,' and I said, 'OK, I will support you.'"

Visits to Virginia Tech, Nevada and a couple other schools preceded the trip to Indiana, where the coach was Todd Yeagley, whose father had led Indiana past Skeene and Columbia team three decades before.

That settled things.

"He said, 'Dad, this is it. I am in love with this place. The feeling I'm getting is a great feeling,'" Joel said. "We were aware of Indiana and the power that it carries. Going to Indiana was like a dream come true, playing for the best team in NCAA Division I. That was fantastic."

As far as Rashad was concerned, it was part of a master plan.

"God is good, so I give all the glory to God for that," Rashad said. "He put all the things in place for me, and I'm just happy I could finally get to Indiana."

Rashad Hyacenth's arrival at Indiana has turned out to be a blessing for both player and team. The powerful, 5-foot-11 forward has helped fill the hole in the IU attack vacated by Femi Hollinger-Janzen, now with Major League Soccer's New England Revolution, resulting in the Hoosiers' first unbeaten record through seven games since 2011.

"He leaves a presence and he has a presence in the game," IU coach Todd Yeagley said. "He's very strong. He has soft feet for a big guy. Once he gets you on his hip, he's tough to get back around. Still getting guys used to playing with him, (but) we're getting there."

That presence has been felt off the field as well.

"Really nice personality. He's always smiling. He's just fun to be around," Yeagley said. "That's important when you have a new player come into the team. When he comes out of the game, he's telling the other guy to go make a difference — he's been great.

"That's sometimes hard for a player who went from being the go-to guy for everything for the most part (at Belmont) to an important role, but one where's he got a lot of other players around.He's embraced it well, just a real fun kid."

The real fun for Hyacenth would be to bring everything full-circle and have a native of Trinidad again play a role in an Indiana national championship — on the winning side, this time. History, and the chance to make more, is why he's a Hoosier.

"Tradition, excellence, everything," he said, breaking into another wide grin. "Eight stars, going to be nine soon."