QUITMAN — Julio Noel sat inconspicuously in street attire as he watched his siblings dart back and forth on the pitch during a Quitman soccer game last December.
The 26-year-old Trinidadian observed with a critical eye, making mental notes to himself, while occasionally relaying his thoughts in the form of loud instructions to Panthers players.
“I was shouting, saying things to certain players,” Noel said with a laugh. “They heard me, and they started doing what I was saying.”
After the game, Noel’s younger brother pulled him aside and suggested he approach Quitman head coach, Elizabeth Hines, to inquire about helping out as an assistant.
Hines brought him aboard without hesitation.
Noel, a professional soccer player, joined Quitman’s staff in December, and has endeared himself to his new players. He brings nine years of pro soccer experience to the Panthers soccer program. Noel has played for Trinidad & Tobago’s Joe Public F.C., St. Ann’s Rangers F.C., Central F.C. and San Juan Jabloteh F.C., and he was a member of Trinidad’s national team.
Although he’s currently a free agent, he hopes to sign with another club soon. If not, he’ll return to Quitman in the fall, where he’s staying with his father.
“I’m totally excited,” Hines said. “We’ve already spoken with Dr. Savage and with our athletic director, and we’ve got that in motion for it to happen next year. Soccer at Quitman had really fallen off for a while. The boys had a 62-game losing streak — they had not won a game since 2015. This year, they won two. My girls won eight games this year, which is something they’ve never done.”
Hines, who just concluded her second year at Quitman, isn’t the only Panther thrilled to have Noel as the latest addition to the program.
Freshman defender Emilee Criddle has been arguably Quitman’s best defensive threat over the last two seasons. Criddle, a 2018 Premier Preps girls soccer selection, tallied 103 steals this year, and she ended her eighth-grade season with 90 steals. Noel’s instruction has enhanced her game.
“It’s been exciting because he plays professionally,” Criddle said. “I feel like I’m good, but when he’s around, I feel like I know I can be better. I know I do more. He knows a lot about the game, and I know he can help me.”
Hines serves as both the boys and girls coach, but Noel has helped relieve the demands of coaching both squads. While Noel’s passion lies on the pitch, he’s been drawn to the teaching aspect of the game for a while, and even dabbled in some coaching in Trinidad.
He offered the following assessment of his new team: “In watching them, they have potential to do better, but they have to learn the basics first,” Noel said. “With me trying to teach them the basic stuff, the game is going to get easier.”
Noel’s addition has benefited Quitman in more ways than him just sharing his professional expertise. It’s allowed him to connect with his three siblings (Julian Noel, J’len Noel and J’Nia Noel).
“It’s a lot of fun,” J’Nia Noel said. “I can hear him yelling at me on the sidelines, and I’ll be in a game and I’ll just be standing there, and he’ll say, ‘J’Nia, move!’ I feel like that bond between me and him and soccer has grown stronger since he’s been here.”
For Julian Noel, spending a portion of his senior year alongside his older sibling has been special.
“Julio, considering the fact that he’s my older brother, I do look up to him for guidance about anything,” Julian Noel said. “He’s a great role model. He does what he needs to do, and he gets it done in a timely manner. Not only is he a great role model for soccer players, he’s a great role model for children my age in general.”
Julio Noel will continue to wait for that phone call from whichever team seeks his talents. But if that opportunity doesn’t arise, he’ll be just fine with joining Hines and Quitman soccer again next season.
“For the amount of years I’ve been playing the game, if it doesn’t work out for me, I can help,” he said. “With the history and knowledge I have of the game, I can help. I don’t mind coaching if I don’t make it in soccer. I can share my talents with them.”