By LORNE CHAN – SS&E Digital Writer
Monday, February 29, 2016
SAN ANTONIO - When Darren Powell was the men’s soccer coach at Elon University, he began a routine of writing notes in a black book.
Powell was always thinking of ideas for game strategies or lines in speeches, but scrawling them on loose sheets of paper that would wind up in North Carolina’s recycling bins. His solution was to start writing all his notes in a black book, and Powell was always spotted around campus looking through it.
Powell held his first San Antonio FC team meeting at the AT&T Center last week, and the first thing he did was take out the book. Austin Dunker, Sam McBride and Miguel Salazar all smiled.
It made the three Elon University alums feel like they were home again.
“He’s a father figure to us,” Salazar said. “He’s really personable with us, and his energy radiates through the whole locker room.”
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Powell spent nine seasons at the Division I University in Elon, N.C., where he was named All-Southern Conference Coach of the Year four times. He moved on to Orlando City SC in 2014 to become director of their pro academy, but Powell maintained a strong relationship with many of his former players.
Powell became the first coach of San Antonio FC in January, and he’s called on a trio of former players the Elon Phoenix to join him.
The three players know Powell better than anyone else in San Antonio. McBride and Dunker have known Powell since they were 10-years-old and Powell was a club coach at Greensboro Soccer Club.
They joked about some of Powell’s tendencies, such as the book, the particular way he’ll hold up his left hand when he’s giving an inspired speech or his excessive use of the word “buzzing.”
But they mostly spoke of a coach they would play for anywhere, whether it’s North Carolina or San Antonio.
“It was a dream come true the first time Coach Powell called me to play for him, and it’s a dream come true again,” Dunker said. “He’s a competitor, he’s a winner, and he loves his players.”
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When Elon won its conference championship in 2015, a year and a half after Powell left, players still FaceTimed him from the locker room to celebrate with their old coach.
“I don’t know how to explain the emotion when they did that, it was kind of like a proud father,” Powell said. “When you’re working with players, it’s not just about the soccer. It goes much farther beyond that. Soccer’s one part of it and when you step over the white lines, it’s business, but when you’re off the pitch, you want to instill family values and beliefs.”
While Dunker graduated in 2014, Salazar and McBride were seniors on the 2015 team.
Salazar was a four-year starter at holding midfield, helping the Phoenix win a school-record 53 and earning Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) first team honors in 2015.
McBride, a defender, played every minute of the 2015 season and helped Elon record nine shutouts.
Dunker also is a defender, who recently played for the Seattle Sounders’ U-23 club.
All the players said Powell kept in touch with them after he left Elon.
“When Coach was at Elon, the program was all about family,” McBride said. “Those relationships you build are going to last and he really ingrained it into us. It’s not about you, it’s about family.”
Powell arrived at Elon in 2004, when the soccer team was coming off nine straight seasons with 10 or more losses. He became the school’s all-time winningest coach with a 94-68-23 record in nine seasons.
“Any team you build, you want to have people all pulling in the same direction,” Powell said. “This team has really run with that already. When your teammates have your back on and off the field, you feel a lot more confident and secure in what you’re doing.”
Now he takes on a new challenge, building a professional team from Day One. As the club finishes its first week of training camp, former Elon players said they’ve already seen the same type of bonds, teamwork and work ethic that Powell built at Elon.
They’re all buzzing to play for their coach again.