October 23, 2012 - By Anthony Baumann. Can the impact of one player change the course of a program and create some consistency? This is a question asked by the majority of men's soccer programs across the country.
Teams tend to enjoy success sporadically, and with the departure of a few key recruits, so too goes the ascendency of the program. The most important aspects that a college soccer program and coach, in particular, has to focus on in order to achieve supremacy is bringing in the right players that can change the direction of the organization. Teams that have developed into powerhouses are the ones that take a long look at the players they are bringing in to represent their team, program, and school.
For teams that lack a big name, and a big conference, like Maryland in the ACC, Connecticut in the Big East, or Indiana in the Big Ten, you need to start building your team with a solid leader at the head coach position. Akron in the MAC proves to be a prime example of how a program can garner national recognition with a formidable manager and the right players, despite not being in an acclaimed conference. Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) of the A-10 is hoping to start a similar trend. They brought in Dave Giffard, from Akron’s coaching staff, who brings loads of success and, more importantly, the capability to create a consistently dominant program.
Giffard was an assistant at Akron under head coach Caleb Porter, where he posted a 23-1-1 record in his final season there. Previously, he served as a volunteer assistant coach at Indiana University for one year, and from 2000 to 2004, he was an assistant coach at UAB. Giffard explains that his time at each one of these places has helped create his own style at VCU, stating, “I am fortunate as a coach to have a lot of experience working with some of the best programs in the country; Indiana, UAB, and Akron. I learned a lot from each school I worked at, and picked up important things from each one along the way.”
He points to consistency as the most emphasized trait amongst his former teams, and it’s this same quality that he stresses at VCU. Giffard states, “First, we had to get the mentality of the people who were here right, which is, working hard on and off the field. We added some talented players, creating an environment and culture everyday where there are 25-26 guys getting after it everyday. We’re doing well, we could be doing even better. We’re still learning how to be successful everyday- its a long process.”
The first objective for Giffard is to recruit players that will bring his vision to life. This is never an easy thing to do, especially when you’re in a rebuilding stage, but he got it just right with the recruitment of Dennis Castillo.
In Dave Giffard’s second season, and Castillo’s first, VCU is 8-2-4, and fighting to win the A-10 and earn a bid to NCAA tournament in 2012. Castillo has been the backbone of a defense that only allows .79 goals against per game. He has also added three goals, and played in every minute this season. Castillo hails from San Jose, Costa Rica, where he played for the youth club of Saprissa. He arrived in Virginia last December to start school and trained with the team during the winter and spring months. This proved to be vital for Castillo and his learning curve. Not only was he forced to quickly get accustomed to life in the States, but he had to do it knowing only basic English. He explains his day to day schedule in Costa Rica, stating, “I would start my day at 6 a.m., take the bus two hours to training at 8, and would arrive back home around 2 p.m. After the return bus, I’d do homework from 2-4. Finally, I’d take another two hour bus to night class until 11, and do it all over again the next day.”
As Dennis continued to explain, I noticed how at ease he was about what it took to succeed, and how he seems like one of those guys that just knows how to get a job done. Giffard knew this right away about Dennis, and that is why he was named a team captain his freshman season, an atypical accomplishment. Dennis described his initial conversation with Coach Giffard about the possibility of earning an armband, “Coach told me that I have to try to be a leader, I responded that with or without the armband I was going to be the same guy continuing to get better at English and being a captain. My team and I are getting to know each other more and I am more confident as a leader and it is helping my play.” Giffard can attest to the truth of this statement, for he himself stated that Dennis is the same guy during a spring practice as he is in front of 5,000 home fans toward the end of the regular season. He goes on to simply say that, “[Dennis] is a winner, he is a consistent guy day in and day out, and he puts his best foot forward in all aspects of life.”
The Rams of VCU have another three seasons with Castillo, who hopes to maintain this success for all four of his years. As for Giffard, VCU plans to hold onto him for a very long time. The recruiting of players like Castillo is the force behind a program seeking consistent success. Yet Castillo and Giffard also constantly mentioned how their success has been a total team effort, and there are a lot more people involved in creating a dominant program.
The journeys of both Coach Giffard and Dennis have developed into the personality of the VCU mens soccer program. Giffard brings the knowledge and enlightenment to the program, and Dennis relays his vision onto the team through his consistency and determination, which he picked up as a young boy in Costa Rica trying to be the best student and soccer player he could be.
VCU will expect to reach even new heights next season, and will continue to grow. Giffard holds this formula for lasting success, and it lies in players like Dennis Castillo.