GRAND LEDGE — Troy Athens boys soccer coach Todd Heugh stood on the field Saturday at Grand Ledge High School and reflected while his team was celebrating with fans on the other side of the stadium.
Athens had just won its sixth state championship in school history with a 2-1 overtime triumph over Brighton in the Division 1 Final, and while talking about how his team won this particular title game, he also put a historical perspective on the key to the program’s success.
Heugh – also the school’s first-year athletic director – said that while any player who comes through the program obviously has ambitions to one day play college or professional soccer, there is something else that drives them more than anything.
“An advantage I think we have at Athens is that a lot of times, a lot of our kids, their goal in our city is to make the varsity soccer team at Athens,” Heugh said. “When they make it, they give it everything they have.”
This has pretty much been the pattern since legendary head coach Tim Storch built the program into one of the state’s gold standards during the 1980s and ’90s.
Heugh saw it firsthand growing up in the community and as a member of Storch’s squad that won the 1989 Class A title.
That motivation to be part of the fabled varsity has filtered all the way down to current players, who echo Heugh’s sentiments that desire No. 1 is to put on the Athens uniform once they get to high school.
“I went to Troy vs. Troy Athens games since I was in sixth grade,” said Athens senior Adriano Shauya, the team’s leading goal-scorer this season. “We used to sit together, I looked at those players and I was like, ‘One day, I want to be on that field as a Troy Athens player.’”
Shauya said he had roster spots available to him on academy teams over the last two years and he could’ve skipped high school soccer, but he wanted to fulfill his dream of playing for Athens.
“I just took a look and said, ‘I love every single one of my teammates, and I love my city,’” Shauya said. “I grew up in the city.”
Because of the ambition of so many players in Troy to play high school soccer, it not only creates unmatched drive and determination for Athens, but also provides unmatched depth each season.
Heugh said his team was able to go 17 or 18 deep during games this season, which allowed the Red Hawks to be the fresher team throughout three overtime victories during the MHSAA Tournament.
Athens was clearly the better team in overtime against Brighton, building a 10-1 advantage in shots, eight of which were on goal.
“When we are able to throw waves of players like that at people, it’s been nice,” Heugh said. “We took a large roster at the beginning of the year, and it was tricky. There were some unhappy kids. Kids that don’t get the minutes that they want to get, and they are pretty good players who probably could get those minutes. But they are willing to do what’s best for the team, and they’re willing to take their minutes when they get them.”
Athens will have the unenviable task of replacing 16 seniors from this year’s squad. But if there’s a high school program that never has issues reloading instead of rebuilding, it’s Athens soccer.
As the team was celebrating with fellow students, parents and fans after the game, it’s a good assumption there were youth players in the community sitting in the stands who are now dreaming of one day being on the same field wearing an Athens jersey.
“I was in eighth grade, and I saw those guys win the championship (in 2019),” said senior Manny Aigbedo, who scored the winning goal in overtime. “I’m like, ‘Man, I want to do something like that one day. I want to be on the field and step up and score for the team and celebrate, and win a championship.’ I was inspired by the guys before me, and I hope that this win today will inspire players to come next through Troy Athens soccer.”
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTOS (Top) Troy Athens players celebrate their overtime victory Saturday night at Grand Ledge. (Middle) Troy Athens JD Hupman (16) and Brighton’s Devlin McGinnis work to gain possession during Saturday’s Final.
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