The Meridian Star
LIVINGSTON, Ala. —
It's a scene ripped out of the movies or professional sports. When Traye Torrance is subbed out of a soccer match, a bubbly 3-year-old is waiting on the sideline to give her father a kiss.
It's not the Champions League or Major League Soccer. It's Tiger men's soccer at University of West Alabama.
Isabella isn't the forward's only daughter. He is 30 and married, with two daughters, but is finally getting to play college soccer.
"My wife, Ivy, is really understanding and supportive," Torrance said. "People under estimate how the level is in D2 or any college soccer program. I think it's a lot harder than most people think. I came back into it and I had to get in shape. I was out of shape without a doubt. I've gotten there through the work that we do and I imagine I'll be a lot better next year. It's been a learning process all over again with how long I took off.
Torrance was a standout at Meridian High School in the late 1990s. He didn't graduate — high school wasn't for him, he said. He got his GED and started at Meridian Community College, but that didn't solve the problem.
"I was getting a bit out of control in high school. It was just not doing it for me," Torrance said. "I was immature. I was 16 when I went to MCC for my first year. I wasn't ready for college. I was doing okay on the field, but as far as going to classes and maintaining all that, hanging out with people that were older than me, I didn't do well with it."
He was still restless after playing the 2001 season at MCC and left for the time being. But he wouldn't stay away forever. Friends drew him back to the Eagles years later and would eventually lead to meeting his wife in 2006, before tying the knot in October of 2012.
Torrance is now focused on making a career out of his passion for soccer, studying sports management at UWA, but those first years away from MCC after the 2001 season weren't picture perfect.
"I think that if people are doing stuff that they don't like or that they hate while they are living, that's not the same as living," he said.
With his oldest daughter, Karolina, on the way in 2002, Torrance knew he needed to step up and be responsible. He enlisted in the air force Air Force as TACP out of the Meridian. It was a respectable job with great health insurance, but it came with its costs.
"I didn't touch a soccer ball for two years," he said. "If you ask anyone about that, it's really, really demanding, like physically and mentally. It's one of the hardest things I've done. I didn't like it because I was an athlete."
Being an athlete is in his blood, he said. In his house growing up, it was all about sports.
"We never talked about being GI Joes or playing with guns or knives," Torrance said. "So, when I went to the military, I was like, 'I don't know what any of this is.'"
His dad, Bubba, was a football and baseball buff, but those sports didn't do it for him. Soccer was his passion.
"I played that stuff, but like when you play football there's a lot of down time. It stops," Torrance said. "In baseball, you go and sit on a bench in the middle of the game for a while. I'm not knocking it, I can't even watch it on TV."
Before the 2004 season, a longtime friend and current MCC men's soccer head coach Alex George asked Torrance to come back to the Eagles and play another season while working towards graduation.
"He asked me to help him out, if I could play a year there. I took 24 [credit] hours in a summer to be able to do that because I'd messed up so much when I was 16," Torrance said. "I did that. We weren't very good that year. We didn't have a whole lot of talent. After that, soccer just kind of got put on hold and I've been coaching and raising two kids ever since."
Playing officially sanctioned games, he meant, had been put on hold.
Torrance and longtime friend and occasionally soccer foe, Mike Smith, had gotten together and organized pickup games around Meridian. Both were also coaching youth soccer and had a large role in starting the Premier Futbol Club select soccer program.
On the off days from coaching, Torrance still hung around MCC, working out with the team and his friends in Smith and George. During the 2011 recruiting season, he happened to be on the field at the same time UWA men's soccer coach Matthew Thorne was on a scouting trip at MCC.
The two got to talking on the sidelines and after some leg work, the rest is history. Before he could officially sign with the Tigers, he had to graduate from MCC to be cleared by NCAA. With a graduation date set for this past August, the NCAA granted him eligibility.
Thorne wasn't concerned about Torrance's age because his skill level was so high.
"You look across the board, but I always look for technical ability, then also as well tactical ability — can he read the game and how it plays, then also physical attributes, at a certain stage you can't really coach, you either have it or don't," Thorne said. "You can make players appear a little sharper, quicker, but a lot of it God given talent. Traye, fortunately, has all the attributes."
Thorne wound up giving Torrance an offer to play at UWA for this season. It was an opportunity to move from the youth sidelines and back into competitive play, which was something he'd been thinking about.
In August of 2012, Torrance went to visit his father in Kansas City during the same week as tryouts for the MLS' Sporting KC. For yucks, he showed up and made the cut of 35, from 300. Being back on the same field as other talented players had put the thought of playing again back in his mind and made the decision to play for the Tigers an easy one.
"It was a chance for me to play again, and I really wanted to play," Torrance said. "[Thorne] gave me a chance and I took it ... I had to run it by my wife and she really wanted me to do it, so that's what really sealed it. She told me if I didn't, then I'd regret it."
She was right.
He does have one regret though. Karolina's U12 Premier Futboll Club team out of Meridian has been on a tear this season, winning every tournament it has played and earning a national ranking — No. 16 in U12.
"I'm missing Kat's [soccer], but she'll have plenty more," he said. "She's going to go on and be better than I was, for sure … [UWA] was close enough to my house where I could actually go home every now and then, we weren't going to have to move or anything. It was just an opportunity at the right time. I was in the right time at the right place. It worked out perfectly."
But he and the Tigers have been on their own tear through the Gulf South Conference in the NCAA Division II. On Friday night, they'll host conference leader, West Florida in a final regular season match. A win could clinch the second seed in next week's conference tournament.
Thorne said win or lose, they are slated to play University of Alabama Huntsville either way because the two will flip flop second and third seeds depend on final results from this week.
"It's really hard to beat a team three times in a season," Thorne said.
The Tigers already have two wins over the Chargers this season. In the second meeting, Torrance scored his first Tiger goal which propelled them to a 2-0 shutout on the road.
"It came at a good time. After we score that goal — it was a great ball from Thiabult [Charmey] — after the goal happened that changed the whole game," Torrance said. "We ended up scoring another goal. We dominated the rest of that game."
Torrance has spent the season rotating between forward and midfield positions. Thorne said it's hard to write each week's lineup because of all the talent the Tigers have to offer. Torrance has started the last six games and is averaging 50 minutes in 15 games this season.
Now that he is back playing sanctioned games, Torrance can't get enough. The Tiger program is only in its second year, but he has his eyes on a National Championship run before his playing days are over… again.
For now, it's just about being back on the pitch.
"You could say you can get away from everything where you're out there," he said. "I just want to be on the field, so I'm going to work as hard as I can to be out there. Except for goalie, I don't want to play goalie."