Hailing from the southern town of Point Fortin, an area rich in T&T football history, Kariym Balthazar is on a quest to fulfill his footballing ambitions of playing professionally, and representing the Soca Warriors. On the brink of his first season with his new college, Saint Leo University, we spoke with Kariym about his journey thus far and his plans for the future.
SW: Who did you play football with while growing up in Point Fortin?
KB: I used to play with Point Fortin Civic Centre U-14 and U-16. Are you familiar with Reynold Carrington?
SW: Yes, I do know him.
KB: That's my brother's and sister's dad. He had a big influence on my career. He coached me, and taught me a lot of things.
SW: Apart from Civic Centre, did you play informally?
KB: I played every day after school.
SW: In the school, in the street, where?
KB: In the street. I don't know if you are familiar with Mahaica Oval.
SW: Yes, I'm familiar with the ground.
KB: Most of the times the authorities would lock it up so we couldn't play because they did not want us to mess up the grass. So we would usually play in the street under the lights from about 8 PM to as late as 11 PM.
SW: Getting back to Hippo. Did he introduce you to football?
KB: Yes, you can say that. I didn't grow up with my dad. Reynold was my brother's and sister's dad, but he was like a father figure to me. I remember when he was playing in Indonesia, he would send boots for me. He would always call me to see how I was doing. That's how I started playing soccer. It was because of him.
SW: Well you have a good role model as far as football is concerned. He was a true warrior.
SW: Most of your secondary school years were spent at Vessigny Government Secondary, where the likes of Anthony Sherwood and Avery John once attended.
KB: I know Avery John, and I speak with him off and on. In one of our conversations, he was explaining to me how the college system works, and he mentioned that he went to Yavapai College and then to a Division I school [American University]. I didn't really want to go to Junior College at all, but I came here [USA] too late.
SW: There are a few national players that went to Junior College first. Avery is one of them. There is also Stern John who went to Mercer, Kelvin Jack, and Errol McFarlane to name a few. So it's not like it hasn't been done before.
KB: I guess so.
SW: You've represented the W-Connection U-16 team. Who was the coach at the time?
KB: Shawn Cooper [recent national U-17 coach].
SW: Were you a regular starter, or were you mainly used as a substitute?
KB: I was a substitute. I would come off the bench all the time.
SW: Who were you competing with for playing time?
KB: Matthew Bartholomew and Aaron Downing.
SW: Bartholomew is also from Point.
KB: We actually grew up together, and both played for Point Fortin Civic Centre. When he moved to W-Connection, he told me that if I really wanted to improve my game, then I should also go to Connection. That's how I ended up there.
SW: Whatever became of Aaron Downing?
KB: I don't really know. I remember that he broke his leg, and then he was in Belgium with Matthew.
SW: Yes, they were in Belgium, then moved to Hungary, and eventually returned to "W". Since then he's sort of fallen under the radar, so I thought that maybe you might know what's going on with him.
KB: No, I mainly keep in contact with Matthew. We speak all the time. He's at W-Connection right now, and is working on some possibilities of going abroad, but nothing is concrete as yet.
SW: How did you get your scholarship to Herkimer Community College?
KB: I didn't get a scholarship. I'm actually a US permanent resident. My mom brought me up here about two weeks before the SATs. I didn't have much time to study for it, and ended up not doing too well on the exam. This guy [from Herkimer] came and recruited me. I went to visit the school and the stadium, and heard that they won six National Championships. I thought I could play there for two years and then try to get a scholarship. In my first year in 2008 we won the National Championship, and in 2009 we came third. I made All-American, and I did well. Afterwards, I decided to go to Saint Leo University in Florida. It's a Division II school.
SW: What is your major?
KB: Sports Business.
SW: You had two excellent years at Herkimer, winning personal accolades, and team championships. Why were you inactive during the 2010 season?
KB: First of all, I was injured, and then there were some classes I had to finish up in the Fall. Even though I could have transferred with the credits, I really wanted to get my Associates Degree. So, I sat out the 2010 Fall semester, during which I was the assistant coach of Herkimer. I then moved to Saint Leo University in the Spring.
SW: Why did you choose Saint Leo?
KB: I wanted to go where the weather was warm, because I was tired of playing in the cold. The coach also assured me that he was doing some comprehensive recruiting, because he really wants to win a National Championship. After visiting the school and Athletic Department, I believed in their vision. However, the coach [Joel Harrison] that recruited me has recently resigned. But I trust my new coach [Keith Fulk]. He was actually the assistant coach of the US U-17 team at the last World Cup. I'm really looking forward to the new season, and I think it will be exciting.
SW: When do you actually go down there and start pre-season?
KB: Pre-season starts on August 15th. Our first game will be against University of Central Florida, a Division I school.
SW: New school, new city, new state, new everything. How do you plan to gain focus and do the job that has been handed to you?
KB: That's why I decided to go in the Spring. Since we only trained and played exhibition matches, it allowed me to get familiar with the team. There is a guy from my old school who also transferred to Saint Leo, and having a familiar face on the team helps with the adjustment.
SW: Even though you haven't gotten in to the full routine as yet, how different is the environment from Herkimer?
KB: At Herkimer, I wouldn't say it was easier, but it was less demanding. Here, you have to be fit every game, and the opponents are physically bigger and stronger. It's like a business. Since they are paying for you to go to school, you have to be on time for everything, and you can't mess up in class. We also practice a lot more, sometimes twice a day. So it's all about adapting to a tougher schedule.
SW: One of the exhibition matches you played was against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. How was it playing against a professional team? Was it noticeably more challenging than playing against college teams?
KB: It was definitely more challenging. I used the game to test myself, because after college, if the opportunity presents itself, I would like to play professionally. Even though we were losing the game 2-0, when it was called off due to lighting, I think I did pretty well.
SW: I don't know if you had any particular expectations or reservations about playing in the US College system, but how has the footballing experience been so far?
KB: I actually think it's working out well. If anybody would have told me that I would win a National Championship in my first year of US college soccer, I would not have believed them. It happened, and I'm grateful for that. In college, the soccer is more direct and physical when compared with the Secondary Schools Football League. It also requires a higher level of physical fitness.
SW: Is there any difference in the pace of the game?
KB: It's a lot faster. In the SSFL, you have a lot of time to keep the ball, and you can slow down the game. Most collegiate coaches want you to play at a fast pace. They want you to keep it going, keep it going …
SW: What about the style of play?
KB: It all depends on the school you go to, and the coach. My coach at Herkimer, Pepe Aragon, is really good. If you are a talented player he would give room to express yourself individually, but his focus was on ball possession. His preferred system is 3-5-2, and he loves wing play.
SW: Do you have intentions of playing professionally?
KB: Yes, definitely. It's my dream.
SW: Face it; the chance of making it professionally is slim. A lot of college players use football as a means to an end. They get a higher education, and get to play a sport they love, but it's not their true intention to pursue it professionally. Many times it's a case of if something happens then great but otherwise it's no big deal. It's not like they are living it, breathing it on a daily basis. I want to get a sense of where you fit in. Are you just throwing the dice to see what number comes up, or will you be actively pursuing that route?
KB: I will definitely be giving it a shot.
SW: What is your plan "B" if it doesn't work out?
KB: That's why I'm doing my major in Sports Business. If it doesn't work out then I will start taking coaching courses, because I want to remain in the game. I would like to maybe coach at the collegiate level.
SW: You are around the same age as players like Shahdon Winchester, Matthew Bartholomew, Lester Peltier, Keron Cummings, and Devon Jamerson, who have all represented the T&T national senior team. I'm sure you have played with and against some, if not all of them. When you see where they have reached, does it give you hope that one day you too may represent the Soca Warriors?
KB: It always gives me hope when guys like that make it. Guys like Matthew and Peltier. I'm happy for those guys. I pray and I keep working hard, and I know my chance will come. And when it comes, I'll grab it with both hands.
SW: You currently play as a forward. Is that a position you've played all your life?
KB: No, I also play outside right or outside left.
SW: Did you play on the wing at Herkimer?
KB: Since our preferred system was 3-5-2, I just played up top.
SW: The forward position is very competitive. What do you bring to the table that you feel can push you up the pecking order?
KB: My work rate. I work really hard off the ball. Many times you would see me defending and making vital tackles. Most importantly, I score a lot of goals. That's why the guy at Herkimer recruited me. He saw me playing in a tournament in Brooklyn, and I was just scoring and scoring. That's what I bring to the table.
SW: Are you primarily right footed or left footed?
KB: I use both feet, but my right foot is stronger.
SW: What about your heading ability?
KB: I do score a lot of goals with by head. I'm 5 feet 11 inches, more or less 6 feet, so my height is an asset.
SW: Are there any T&T national players that you would say that you are close to in terms of style of play?
KB: Dwight Yorke. I used to try to emulate Reynold Carrington, but he ended up changing positions all the time. When I was much younger he used to play forward, then midfield, then defensive mid.
SW: Well Hippo was a true utility player. He could easily adapt to playing any position. Since he has left the national scene, I don't think we've had anyone come through the ranks that can truly call themselves a utility player.
KB: That's true. But I'll say Dwight Yorke, because of the runs he makes to receive the ball, and the way he finishes.
SW: Are there any local players that you look up to?
KB: One player that I really look up to is Keon Daniel. When I was at United Petrotrin, I used to train with the senior team, and play with the reserves. The way he trains, and the way he plays…I would tell any young player to look up to Keon because he's very disciplined.
SW: Do you still keep in close contact with Hippo regarding football?
KB: Yes, of course. I spoke to him as recently as Father's Day. He always tells me to keep working hard. I always keep in contact with him.
SW: When the College season is over, do you keep in shape?
KB: Training is year-round, so that would help me maintain my fitness.
SW: Many college players align themselves with a PDL [Premier Development League] team during the summer. Do you have any plans to do that?
KB: Actually, I was supposed to play in the PDL this summer with the IMG team, but I had an abdominal injury, and my trainer told me to rest for the summer and just do gym work. I listened to him, because I didn't want to risk a re-occurrence of the injury, especially when it's my first season at Saint Leo.
SW: As you mentioned the injury, what was the injury you had last season? Was it this same abdominal injury?
KB: No, the injury that I had going into the 2010 season was an ankle injury. I could barely walk, because of a problem with my Achilles tendon.
SW: How do you hope to get recognized, or seen, or even be on the radar for the T&T national team?
KB: I'm just going to keep working hard, and try to lead my team to titles. The only way you're going to get on the radar is if your team is winning. After winning the National Championship in 2008, the coach instilled a winning mentality in the team. When I first came to college, I wasn't like that. When I would lose, I would be mad for a day or two, but that was about it. Now, I am focused on winning, and I have high expectations of myself.
SW: Are there any other Trini players at Saint Leo?
KB: No, not right now.
SW: But they might still be recruiting, right?
KB: No, we are actually finished recruiting.
SW: OK, because I know many schools are still making roster announcements.
KB: We're finished recruiting, and we have about 27 or 28 guys, and the coach said that he doesn't need anybody else until next year.
SW: For your position, what is the pool of players like that you have to compete with?
KB: There are a few players, a few freshmen coming in. I don't want to say that the coach guaranteed me that I'm going to start, but he has stressed to me that he wants me to be a leader on the team just as I was at Herkimer. He told me not to come in all nonchalant and expect to start, but to come in, work hard, and be a leader.
SW: From what I'm hearing it sounds like you are excited and can't wait to get going.
KB: Yes, I'm very excited. It's a new team, a new season. I just can't wait.
SW: Well all of us at socawarriors.net, as usual, will be following our fellow Trinis as they make their way through the college season, and you will be no exception. Hopefully you will experience success and end up on the Soca Warriors radar, but the first challenge lies ahead with your new school. We wish you all the best in your endeavors.
KB: Thank you.
SW: Is there anything else that you wish to add?
KB: Put God first, and work hard.
KARIYM BALTHAZAR'S PROFILE
Full Name: Kariym Balthazar
Date of Birth: October 15, 1988
Hometown: Point Fortin, Trinidad and Tobago
Secondary School: Princes Town Senior Comprehensive (2007), Vessigny Government Secondary (2001-2006)
College: Saint Leo University (2011-present), Herkimer Community College (2008-2010)
Clubs: W-Connection U-16, Point Fortin Civic Centre U-14
AWARDS AND HONORS
U-16 T&T Pro League and Knockout Champions
Point Civic Centre
U-14 Southern Football Association Champions
Herkimer Community College
- NJCAA National Championship (2008)
- NJCAA Region III Championship (2008, 2009)
- NSCAA All-American (2009)
- NJCAA All-American (2009, 2008)
- NJCAA All-Region III Team (2009, 2008)
- NJCAA Final Four All-Tournament Team (2009, 2008)
- NJCAA All-Mountain Valley Conference Team (2009, 2008)
- NJCAA Region III Male Athlete of the Week (Sept. 22, 2009)
- Captain of Herkimer Community College (2009)
- NJCAA Men's Division III Soccer Player of the Week (Sept. 25, 2008)
NSCAA - National Soccer Coaches Association of America
NJCAA - National Junior College Athletic Association