By Joe Guzy | The Duquesne Duke
On a cool Thursday night at the tail end of the summer, the Duquesne University Men’s Soccer team takes the field for practice on an illuminated Rooney Field. The players are scattered for all 100 yards. Some are stretching. Some are kicking. Some are joking. Usually one could easily pick out the coach standing on the sideline telling his players to “listen up!” or “quiet down!”
Chase Brooks is not one of those coaches. He is not standing. He is not yelling. He is running faster than any of his players are at the moment. He moved on from setting up cones to gathering resistance bands. As his assistant coach leads the team in stretches, Brooks can be seeing dribbling and bouncing soccer balls in the middle of the field.
“I’m a pretty laid-back individual,” Brooks said. “The way I live my life and the way I coach is all about balance. You can’t be a screamer all the time but you can’t be their friend all the time.”
Brooks’ laid-back philosophy began with the end of his playing days.
“Meeting the head coach that I met – Gregory Moss-Brown – just joined the program my senior year. He was absolutely fantastic,” Brooks said with animation. “Played Division I at Hartwick University. Had a very good career. English guy that just knew the game.
“I just loved the way he motivated, loved the way he talked to the group. Just everything that he did was such a refreshing change. To start my senior year and have this guy as the head coach, it was just wonderful. That really planted the seed.”
Eventually Brooks addresses his players about the simplicity of tonight’s practice as their home opener is tomorrow. He’s not holding a clipboard. His whistle is tucked into his pocket. It’s still hard to pick him out of the crowd as he’s wearing the same shirt as everyone else on the field. His address is filled with laughs and shows the camaraderie amongst the group.
“I have find a way to get 29 players to buy-in to me and my system, Brooks said. “That’s not easy to do.
“If I’m one way, it just doesn’t work. I try to read the players to best of my ability. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong. But I try to read the players and read the group and make sure that they understand it’s just soccer at the end of the day. You’re here to have fun.”
And with Chase Brooks, even practice can be fun.
A group of players purposely scream out exaggerated sounds of relief while doing yoga. Another group is doing some bizarre workout with resistance bands that eventually turns into some form of interpretive dance. Players first wrap the resistance bands around the railings in front of them. Once the players have their grip set, the whistle blows and they begin spinning counter clockwise as fast as they can. The bands flail above their heads as they try to maintain their balance.
“Core work,” Brooks said with a grin. “Believe it or not, everything we do has a purpose.”
Eventually, Brooks does don the look of a typical head coach. As the team begins a short scrimmage, the whistle comes out of his pocket. He only uses it to start and stop play. Some of the stoppages are to alert the players of the score. Others are accompanied by brief discussions at center field as to why he blew the whistle. There is never any yelling or hand holding. Little bits of advice and suggestions are spoken in a friendly but stern manner.
Brooks blows the whistle and returns to the sideline next to assistant coach Josh Faga.
“I met him because he was the head coach at Niagara while I was playing at Marist College,” Faga said. “My first encounter with him, we beat his team in the semifinals of the [Metro Atlantic Athletic Association Conference] tournament.
“My second encounter – well it’s pretty funny. It was my senior day and we were in a must-win situation. His team at that point only had one loss on the year. I scored with a minute left in the game. Then his team scored with 30 seconds left and then beat us in overtime.”
Brooks offered a helping hand.
“He reached out to me. He thought I was a good player,” Faga said. “Anything going forward to help me out, he would do.”
Faga didn’t jump to coaching right away. He played professional soccer with the United Soccer League’s Rochester Rhinos and the Major Arena Soccer League’s Rochester Lancers.
His professional and coaching career are partially thanks to the help that Brooks offered him on his senior day.
“I reached out to him after that season,” Faga said. “He introduced me to my first agent. When he started [coaching at Duquesne], I reached out to him again,” Faga said. “I’ve been on staff for two years now.”
With Brooks’ helping hands and positive attitude, it should come as no surprise that he wants his players to do well both on and off the field.
“We always have study tables – even on the road for upperclassmen,” junior defensive midfielder Bryan Fegley said. “Usually the tables are just for freshman, but he has it spread out all the way up to seniors.
“With classes and stuff, he always works around us or with us. Always to make sure class comes first, soccer second.”
As practice winds down for the evening, Brooks shares the sentiment.
“Do we have to?” one player groans from the bunch.
“Yes,” Brooks replies with a chuckle. “You’re all going to class tomorrow.”
In less than 24 hours, the team’s supporter section, “Rooney’s Goonies,” will drown out the sound of traffic on the adjacent Boulevard of the Allies with drums and cheeky chants. The empty stands will be filled with red and blue. The smell of fresh popcorn will travel with the summer breeze to students all over campus. Perhaps as a subtle invitation for the show Brooks will provide for Friday night’s entertainment.
“We want to play soccer the right way, “Brooks said. “We want to knock the ball around and play an attractive style that’s fun to watch and brings fans out.
“We want to make sure we’re extremely competitive here so the fans keep coming back and keep them entertained.”
Even with a new season approaching as fast as the players head back home, Brooks doesn’t seem too worried.
“Outside of all of that, it’s just about enjoying it,” Brooks says with a smile. “We’re here to have fun.”