Perseverance pays off, and opportunities unfold where discipline and work ethic lead the way.
That might not be the mantra of Chase Minter word for word, but greater truisms could not have been uttered as they pertained to the overall success of the Cal Poly men’s soccer midfielder, both on and off the field.
The road to that success involved paving over a few potholes and eschewing detours, dealing with the jams that stood directly in front of him.
Minter, a graphic communication major, will go down as one of the greatest players to ever don a Mustang uniform. He is a member of the 30-player Hermann Trophy Watch List, a candidate for the equally prestigious Senior CLASS Award, and Cal Poly’s Big West Conference Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
The accomplishments rattle off with the ease of a well-struck penalty kick, but they belie the difficulty with which he had to work to get there.
SAMPSON AND SERENDIPITY
Although he displayed a knack for playing the game of soccer, both in high school and at the club level, Minter received little attention from college recruiters. Certainly no one from the Division I level.
But like a fortuitous bounce, Minter’s dream of continuing his soccer career was about to be fulfilled. Playing for his club squad, the Dallas Texans competed in a tournament called the Dallas Cup toward the end of Minter’s junior year at Rockwall-Heath High School in Heath, Texas.
In the crowd was a figure that, ironically, would later be linked to Minter’s continued ascension in the collegiate soccer world.
But first, unbeknownst to Minter, he was about to swing open a door the size of a soccer goal.
The spectator was Steve Sampson. Successful at every conceivable level, he is one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of American soccer. In 1989, Sampson won a national championship at Santa Clara University and, as a manager of Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy, guided his side to the 2005 MLS Cup title. In between, he directed the United States at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France and served as the Costa Rica Men’s National Team manager (2002-04).
On this particular day, Sampson was watching a game on the field next to the one Minter’s team inhabited. He turned around, and his attention immediately focused on the blonde-haired dynamo dribbling in and out of traffic, creating opportunities for his teammates, and scoring goals.
“On that day he was incredibly gifted at holding the ball, and penetrating,” recalled Sampson. “I watched this kid, and wanted to watch him throughout the entire game, and ignored the game that I actually went to the Dallas Cup to see because of Chase.”
“I wasn’t there in an official capacity for any college, professional team or the national team.”
But Sampson’s involvement with the game meant that he had contacts – lots of contacts – and he thought of then-Cal Poly head coach Paul Holocher.
Holocher was a captain on Sampson’s 1989 championship Santa Clara squad. So Sampson placed a call to his former player, and encouraged Holocher to take a look at this prospect that heretofore had remained largely anonymous.
Minter participated in a Cal Poly identification camp and dominated the competition, giving Holocher all the proof he needed to see.
Minter was offered a roster spot.
Holocher, for his part, sought players that fit the possession-based style of play that he had studied on trips to Barcelona. Minter, a creative tactician with the ball, fed right into that approach.
“I think (Steve) Sampson knew what Paul was building up towards,” said Minter. “He felt that, out of all the college teams that would be the style that would help me develop and display my abilities best, and he was right.”
TEXAS TWO-STEP EQUALS SECOND CHANCES
The opportunity to play Division I college soccer almost evaporated as soon as it became available.
Minter, who redshirted his freshman year in 2011, admitted that the transition from high school to college was not an easy one. It was difficult enough for him that he hadn’t been highly recruited, labeling himself at the time as “an afterthought” on a roster loaded with talent. He knew his 5-foot-9, 150-pound frame didn’t automatically help him trend toward the attention he wanted.
Factor in the rigorous academic requirements of Cal Poly, and Minter flailed a bit in the early going.
He actually ended up failing his first quarter, and was placed on academic probation.
The trip back to Texas for the winter break was not a pleasurable one.
“My dad pretty much, the day I got back, told me that you’re not going back (to San Luis Obispo), and why would I spend that money for you to go and fail?” Minter said.
But his father relented, and it wasn’t until about 2 or 3 days before Minter’s flight back to California that he found out he was actually going to board that flight.
“He told me you don’t get many other chances, and you better make the best of it.”
Let the record show that he made good on the investment.
WAKE UP CALL
There are nine schools in the Big West Conference. As such, there are only nine Big West Male Scholar-Athletes of the Year – one representative per school – who attend the banquet that honors them during the week of the conference’s basketball tournament in Anaheim. The spotlight shined brightly, finally, and deservedly so.
Minter, an avid gamer, couldn’t have imagined that he would advance so many levels, sitting among his peers on a stage full of accomplished student-athletes. The two-time Big West All-Academic Team honoree didn’t come up with some magical elixir.
His approach in the classroom mirrored the philosophy of the Cal Poly soccer program. Built on the foundation of hard work, dedication and attention to detail, Minter put his nose to the grindstone and toiled for the success – academically and ultimately athletically – that he reaped.
He answered his wake up call.
“You are what you put time into,” said Minter. “I pretty much had to make a choice at that point. I wanted to play for Paul, I wanted to play for the school and I wanted to ultimately be in California. And, in order to do that, I was going to have to work for it. I couldn’t have had anything better happen for me honestly.”
But in true Minter fashion, he includes others in his triumphs, and expresses gratitude for those who have helped him along the way.
Academic advisers, tutors, showing up at professor office hours – Minter utilized the numerous resources available at Cal Poly to reverse his course.
He also pointed to Brian Reed, a former Mustang assistant coach and player who was familiar with the challenges of juggling the responsibilities of being a student and an athlete.
Reed helped Minter set up his schedule and directed him to the right people. Minter learned through academic advisors how to more effectively study, and what to study. He became more organized.
But most of all, he put in the work.
“Definitely a trial, and one of the bigger challenges I’ve had in my life, but I think some of the greatest lessons come from those kind of situations, and I just did my best to try to learn something from it,” said Minter.
The same grit and determination that Minter displayed in righting his academic ship translated to the pitch.
What has ensued is his development into one of the nation’s most dynamic players. As a junior, Minter was named the 2014 Big West Midfielder of the Year after ranking third in the conference with 19 points on seven goals and five assists. He sported a team-leading seven assists – the fourth-highest single season total in program history to highlight his 2013 sophomore season.
This season, he has accounted for four goals (including two game-winners) and four assists, pushing his career total to 19 helpers and within two of tying the Cal Poly record.
Matt LaGrassa and Minter have been teammates at Cal Poly from day one. The fellow fifth-year senior and midfielder noted Minter’s evolution over the years.
“I think he’s added a lot of maturity to his game,” said LaGrassa. “Being a creative player that he is, you’re going to get hit a lot, you’re going to take fouls, and it’s difficult for someone his size to take that over and over again. I think what he’s been able to do is manage the risk and sharpen his decision-making, and he has become something special here.”
There would no shortage of eager recruiters willing to welcome Minter into their program had they known then what they know now.
Minter’s breakout junior campaign bolstered his résumé and thrust him into the spotlight once again – not inside the ballroom of the Wyndham Hotel dressed in shirt-and-tie – but this time due to his exploits while donning the green and gold colors of the Mustang uniform.
The Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy is bestowed upon the national collegiate player of the year. As a member of a 30-player Watch List for that award, Minter is in rare company. Only two other Mustangs – Mackenzie Pridham (2013) and Patrick Sigler (2009) have appeared on the Watch List previously.
Minter appreciates the recognition but downplays the attention, slipping into his natural role as the ultimate team player.
“It’s never a bad thing to get recognition, and I’m very proud of it, but I wouldn’t be the player that I am without coaches and teammates. I wouldn’t be the student that I am without teachers and tutors,” said Minter, whose favorite soccer player is Lionel Messi. “I absolutely love being able to say I’m doing well in both areas, but it also feels a little bit slighted when it’s my name on the award, and there isn’t any recognition towards all the people that helped me get there.”
COMING FULL CIRCLE
Other challenges have greeted Minter during his five years in San Luis Obispo. He has had three different head coaches – and, by his count, 13 coaches in total if assistants and volunteers are included.
Holocher departed prior to the start of the 2014 season, and assistant Phil Ruskin took on the interim head coach role.
Following three full seasons at Cal Poly, Minter’s teams had recorded winning records in all of them.
But something was missing.
That “something” was a trip to the NCAA Tournament, a chance to compete in the postseason and fulfill a dream of playing for the national championship.
Enter Steve Sampson. Sampson became the fourth head coach in Cal Poly’s 21-year Division I history on Dec. 4, 2014. A confluence of factors led Sampson to Cal Poly, including that his son, Brandon, attended the university and graduated from its College of Architecture. Sampson had fallen in love with the community and the surrounding area. And, he now had the opportunity to coach players like Minter, whom he helped reach Cal Poly.
Sampson’s postseason pedigree gave him instant credibility with the players, and to no one’s surprise, Minter has developed even further as a player and a person. Minter attributes that development to Sampson’s broad-based approach.
“It’s all in becoming a more complete person, not just a complete player, but one who is very wholesome in what they do, and it all kind of comes with balance,” said Minter. “Being able to find the right balance between off the field and on the field, so that you’re not burnt out when you come to the field.”
As far as on-field performance, Minter has been pushed to expand his game. As an attacking player, he had been conditioned to focus more so on his offensive gifts. But Sampson favors players who can play both sides of the ball, who can attack and defend.
It was a shift in mentality, and Minter admitted that it could be frustrating at times. But he also attributes that switch in mindset to Cal Poly having one of the top goals against averages in the country this season.
Sampson takes it a step further. To get to the next level, he wants his players to take their games a step further.
“It’s impossible to play at the next level unless you can play both sides of the ball,” said Sampson. “If all you do is play one side of the ball, you better be incredibly special, and very few players in MLS are afforded the privilege of just attacking and not having to defend.
“If you don’t have players that are disciplined defensively, against good opponents it eventually takes it toll against you the player, and the team as a whole.”
Continuing his soccer career into the professional ranks is a dream that Minter wants to fulfill.
“Sampson told me it’s a very big possibility, and I shouldn’t ever worry about it because that will ultimately take care of itself,” said Minter.
For now, Minter is only worried about helping his team win games.
GOAL OF THE YEAR
Lionel Messi would have been proud.
If an ESPY existed for Goal of the Year, Minter’s name would already be engraved on the trophy.
His bicycle kick goal on Oct. 1 at CSUN, named TopDrawerSoccer.com’s College Goal of the Week, gave the Mustangs their first win in Northridge since 2010.
Inside the 18-yard box, Minter accepted a header pass from a teammate, settled the ball with his chest, and unleashed a scissor kick past the CSUN goalkeeper. It was a rare goal on any level.
Minter, who labels basketball as his other love outside of soccer, said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Unwittingly, his uncle had asked about whether players practiced bicycle kicks prior to the CSUN game.
Minter told his uncle that the opportunity doesn’t come around often enough to practice that type of shot.
“It just felt right instinctually, so I just kind of went for it, and obviously it worked out for the best,” Minter said with a laugh.
As far as Minter’s path to Cal Poly, and the accompanying journey?