Soccer is warming up along with the weather in DeSoto County and the Mid-South. Competitive programs have had tryouts and the area is seeing the move toward professional soccer with next year’s addition of the Memphis USL franchise to play at AutoZone Park.
While high school soccer is played in the dead of winter in DeSoto County for the most part, the sport is growing outside of the high school season. In fact, talented players from the past in county high schools are stepping forward to teach the game to the next generation of soccer players.
Such can be found in one of the competitive programs, called the DeSoto Lobos Rush. As many as three former Center Hill players who went on to play in college are assisting as coaches, part of a Lobos Rush program that also plays in Collierville and at Christian Brothers High School.
The trio of Blake Lashlee, Alex and Kristin Young all played at Center Hill. Lashlee went on to play soccer and this year graduated from Christian Brothers University. Alex and Kristin Young both played soccer at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
They are joining a group of coaches that also includes Andrew Forrest, a native of Scotland who also played at Christian Brothers.
Both Lashlee and Forrest are part of the Memphis City FC Premier Development League team, a feeder team playing this summer and connected with the Memphis USL franchise.
For Lashlee, working with DeSoto Lobos Rush means a chance to pass on his soccer knowledge to a new generation of players.
“I want to give back to the game some things that I have learned,” Lashlee said. “That will help the kids tremendously and I think it will grow more as people see that it’s growing and they want to put the kids in something where there’s a good coach who can show the love and passion for the game.”
Lashlee’s soccer background goes back to his youth when he was running the field and learning about the game. “One of the elementary schools I went to had soccer and I wanted to play soccer and I guess I was a natural at it,” said Lashlee. “One day at a rec field a competitive coach came up and said I needed to play competitive. So I started competitive with the Olive Branch Rage and I played for a year there.”
Lashlee went on to play competitive soccer in the Memphis vicinity, followed by his high school career and time at Christian Brothers University. As a senior last fall, the midfielder assisted on a pair of goals for a Bucs’ team that finished 7-9-2 overall, 6-5-1 in conference play.
Lashlee believes the quality of DeSoto County soccer is improving and he wants to help it grow more.
“Around here, that used to be lacking but I think the Lobos are trying to get people involved that know the game to help these kids and it’s going to pay off for them,” he said. “People want their kids to be at the highest level they can. To achieve that you need people around that know the game and understand the game.”
Forrest, who started 17 of 18 games last fall at CBU, is impressed at how interest in soccer is growing in the Mid-South.
“Soccer is behind some of the other sports in America, football and basketball, but it is becoming more popular among the younger kids and there’s obviously a demand for it in Memphis and the area,” said Forrest. “There’s a lot of interest, even in the Premier League. You see it on TV, where you used to never see that. That’s helping and the kids getting more involved in it.”
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.