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Hellman looking forward to new set of challenges at CIU

Posted: April 4, 2013 11:10 a.m.
Updated: April 5, 2013 5:00 a.m.

When you father is a high school baseball coach, you spend your springs, summers and falls on the diamond and in dugouts, right?
Hey, wait a minute.
All it took for Zach Hellman to bypass the baseball field in favor of the soccer pitch was a bit of a nudge from his childhood friend and former Lugoff-Elgin High School teammate, Kyle Brosius.  When he was five years old, Hellman took up the sport of soccer and never looked back.
That decision proved to be beneficial as the L-E soccer captain of the past two seasons signed a national letter-of-intent to continue his academic and soccer-related pursuits at Columbia International University where he plans to major in Middle Eastern studies.
Last November, Hellman, whose father is Crestwood High School head baseball coach Tracy Hellman, visited the CIU campus to take part in a soccer showcase. In addition to getting a feel for the school and members of the Rams’ squad, the Demons’ middle backer caught the eye of CIU head coach James Whitaker. A few months later, Hellman is ready to join the CIU squad.
“I just love the campus and the positive attitude around the guys. I met all the players,” said the 5-foot-8, 135-pounder. “The campus is great and they had the major I intend to study. It’s just a great place for me to go.”
If the atmosphere at the school and being introduced to his soon-to-be teammates were not enough of a selling point, meeting and talking with Whitaker sealed the deal for Hellman as to where he wanted to spend his college years.
“Coach Whitaker is a great guy and he’s a big reason why I’m going there,” Hellman said. “I wanted to go to a college where I liked the coach and, he has a great and positive attitude. I think he has good intentions for me. He wants me to have a great future and he wants to help me develop as a player in college.”
Whitaker said he likes what he has seen from Hellman and is excited about the Demon joining his program come this fall.
“Zach is a terrific player and an outstanding young man,” Whitaker said of the 2012 All-Region 6-4A performer and L-E’s impact player of the year as a junior. “We’re really excited to add him to our team for next year.  He is a hard-working and intelligent player, and he will have the opportunity to make an impact right away for our team this coming fall.”
As for his development up to this point, Hellman started playing soccer as a child when the game was more about outrunning other kids to the ball and then, firing away at the goal. By the time he was 11 or 12, he became more serious about the sport and played club soccer, eventually working his way onto the Lexington United and Columbia United squads.
“When I started out at the age of five, soccer really wasn’t about skill or anything like that. It was, pretty much, about being the fastest one on the field and I was one of the faster kids,” he said of his introduction to the game. “I fell in love with it from the first match that I played in.
“When I started playing club, we had more technical coaches who were focused on building our skills and helping us to get better as players, versus rec league soccer where you just played to win. (In club), the coaches want to help you develop into becoming a better player.”
Hellman joined the L-E soccer program as a seventh-grader and played two seasons on the junior varsity before being promoted to the varsity squad as a freshman. He has been a stalwart for the Demons’ defensive unit the past four seasons.
As he progressed in the sport, Hellman said he started dreaming about playing soccer at the college level. He would talk to college coaches about what he needed to work on in order to play at the next level. Hellman said he received the same response from each coach.
“I talked to different college coaches and they all told me, ‘You need to get bigger, you need to get stronger and you need to get faster,’” he said. “That means that you have to get into the weight room, get a lot of touches (with the ball), don’t take too much time off from practicing, always stay on the field and stay on the ball.”
While he said his size is not a detriment to playing center back in high school, Hellman anticipates being moved to outside backer at CIU. “As a center back in college,” he said, “you need more height. Outside back would be a great role for me. I’ve played it before and I really enjoyed it.”
In order to help get adjusted to the quicker and more physical style of play at the college level, Whitaker gave his signees a summer workout routine so that they will not come in wide-eyed once they step on the field against older players.
“I’m going to be getting on that as soon as possible to get bigger, get ready and to get prepared for the bigger guys that I’m going to have to face at the college level,” he said. “With me being a smaller guy, I’m going to have to be able to take on some physical challenges and then, get back up after them. I’m going to have to get in the weight room and take some risks and take some pain.”
As a senior on a team with a new head coach in Aaron Taylor, Hellman said his role as captain took on even more importance this season. He said he takes being a team leader and a role model for the younger Demons to look up to seriously.
In a few months, however, it will be Hellman looking up to the seniors on the Rams’ squad. Starting over again as the new kid on the block does not worry him.
“I’m looking forward to it because I am always open to new challenges,” he said. “I think it will be great to go in there and try to earn a starting spot as a freshman. That will be an excellent opportunity for me.
“I’m going to go there and take my chances, not be slack and go 100 percent in practice and training. Hopefully, I’ll be able to earn that starting spot as a freshman and, if not, keep working toward it for the next year.”
While some recent college signees will enter their new surroundings with a sense of trepidation, Zach Hellman is going in with his eyes and ears open and an eagerness to learn and improve himself, both on and off the soccer field.
“I’m very excited … very relieved, actually,” he said of his signing with CIU. “Going to play soccer in college is all that I been thinking about for the past four or five years. I’m very eager to get started and to begin this new chapter in my life.”

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