U.S. College News
01 Dec 2011
- Written by Jody Demling (The Courier-Journal)
- Hits: 603
Colin Rolfe and Austin Berry tend to get a lot of the national attention when it comes to talk about the University of Louisville men’s soccer team.
But Nick DeLeon is a name many folks are beginning to remember.
Coach Ken Lolla said the senior from Phoenix has been the Cardinals’ “most consistent and dangerous” player all season and has been a key to U of L’s run to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight for the second consecutive season.
“He’s shown a tremendous amount of growth and maturity, and it’s still going on,” Lolla said. “It’s been great to see him go through the maturation process.”
A transfer from UNLV, DeLeon is second on the team in goals (six), assists (six) and points (18) as the Cardinals prepare to host UCLA on Saturday for a spot in the Final Four the following weekend in Hoover, Ala.
The game against UCLA is slated for 7 p.m. at Cardinal Park.
“Slowly my confidence has grown more and more and more,” DeLeon said. “And I think that’s the biggest thing — now I am more confident than ever before.”
DeLeon, who has started all 45 games since arriving at U of L, said he also has noticed his teammates are more confident in his abilities. He was named first-team All-Big East Conference for a second consecutive year.
And he’s starting to earn some respect nationally. TopDrawerSoccer.com analyst Joe Mauceri ranked him the No. 2 senior in the country, noting that he is “an outstanding player on both sides of the ball.”
“He’s just so well-rounded,” Berry said. “We like his chances going one-on-one with other players. I’d take him 1 v 1 versus anybody in the country.”
DeLeon admitted he has “come a long way” since following assistant coach Mario Sanchez to Louisville after two seasons when he played in 24 games (starting 21) for the Runnin’ Rebels.
As a junior DeLeon helped U of L to the national championship game, where it lost to Akron. He finished second in scoring with eight goals and three assists and led the team with 71 shots and four game-winning goals.
Growing up in a family in which everyone play soccer, DeLeon said he has been playing since age 5 and always wanted to make it to the Final Four.
“It was all like a dream,” he said.
But it looked as if his dream was going to come crashing down in April when DeLeon, teammate Brock Granger and another U of L athlete were arrested on drug charges. The two soccer players were suspended from the team, the charges were dropped and they returned to the team after completing requirements set up by Lolla.
“I was living in a little fairy world,” DeLeon said. “I felt like I was kind of untouchable and could do whatever. But I think all of that just brought me down to reality and straightened my focus. Now I recognize what’s important to me.”
Lolla said he thought DeLeon handled the situation well and took the adversity as a “learning experience,” growing on and off the field.
“As ugly as it was, the situation ended up being a tremendous amount of growth for him,” Lolla said. “Those things that happen in life where we make poor decisions and mistakes in our lives, it’s either things that send us into a tailspin or it’s a learning moment. It ended up being a great learning moment for Nick.
“Because of it, he’s in a better place now.”
Once he returned to the team in the preseason, DeLeon said he wasn’t sure “what the difference was,” but he felt more confident.
That has showed on the field.
“I feel like I am doing the same thing, I don’t know,” he said. “I have gotten it from a lot of people, saying, ‘You know you can do better than this.’ I never believed it before this year. I guess I knew I could be a good soccer player, but other people told me that I had the potential to be great.”
DeLeon leads the team in shots with 75, including 30 shots on goal, and scored the game-winning goal against Bradley two games back in the NCAA Tournament.
He had a career-high three points against Indiana and Villanova.
“Every year I feel like I have improved more and more,” he said. “It feels unbelievable this year because I feel like it’s where I need to be to make the jump to the next level. I used to be nervous about the next level, but now I am excited. I am ready to finish this year off with a national championship and then think about the future.”