Walk this way

Webster University men's soccer
From left to right: Brelon Buckner, Shea Vogt, Agustin Villalba and Carlos Espinosa are walk-ons who are having a major impact on the Webster University men’s soccer team. Each player has started at least five of the Gorloks’ 11 games. PHOTO BY VICTORIA CASWELL

In 24 years as coach of the Webster University men’s soccer team, Marty Todt has recruited hundreds of players and put together some outstanding teams. The make-up of the 2011 squad is quite different. More than one-third of his team’s starters were not recruited to play soccer for the Gorloks.
Walk-on players Brelon Buckner, Agustin Villalba, Shea Vogt and Carlos Espinosa decided to “try out” for the team because they had a desire to play soccer at Webster.
“That is the beauty with our program at Webster,” Todt said. “The word gets out and kids want to play here. We will always be looking for those walk-on players now.”
Todt said he was impressed with the mental attitude, work ethic and determination that the walk-ons possess. All four players are major contributors for the Gorloks.
Buckner, a freshman defender, played soccer at Hazelwood Central High School and thought about attending Indianapolis University or Howard University in Washington, D.C. Buckner eventually settled on Webster, and he was determined to make the team early on.
“At the very first tryout, I knew I had to make a good first impression,” Buckner said. “I gave it my all by finishing in the top half of conditioning drills. I wanted the coach to notice me and I think he did.”
Todt said he was impressed with Buckner from the beginning.
“Buckner has a physical presence and he defends really well,” Todt said. “His speed is outstanding and his physical presence and body keep opponents off the ball.”
Before Villalba came to Webster, he played only four games of high school soccer. Instead, he was too busy playing tennis every day.
“I came to Webster to play tennis, but I thought I would go out and see how good the soccer players were and see if I could make it,” Villalba said.
Villalba, a junior midfielder, planned to join the team his freshman year, but missed the tryouts. He came back his sophomore year and made one of the final two spots.
“I really thought I was not going to make it,” Villalba said. “When I was told there were only two spots, I really thought, ‘No way.’”
Todt said Villalba is a unique story because he came in as the 24th player and worked hard to elevate his game.
“Villalba may not have many assists or goals, but he has one of those intangible things,” Todt said. “He has really worked through the process by listening and responding. He came out this season and had his mind made up to play. He was determined to earn a starting position, and he did it.”
Vogt, a senior defender and co-captain, was focused on just getting good grades when he came to Webster. But he wound up making the other final spot as a junior last year. He played only one year of high school soccer as a freshman on Marquette’s JV team.
“When I came to Webster I was not going to play soccer at all,” Vogt said. “I didn’t think about it as a freshman because my academics were good. But I didn’t want to look back and have regrets from not playing. It was the right time to play.”
Vogt wanted much more than just making the roster. Although he made the team, he was not able to travel with his teammates to away games. Only 22 players travel, and he was No. 23 on the team. Villalba was 24.
“I was not OK with not traveling,” Vogt said. “It really gave me an incentive to work hard and it’s what I needed to get me going.”
Todt said any walk-on player would be on pins and needles at tryouts the way Vogt and Villalba came into the situation.
“Vogt not only made the team, but by the second or third game, he was starting,” Todt said. “He brings that physical aspect to the game, but his mental approach and attitude is what makes him so valuable.”
By the end of last season, Todt called Vogt and asked him to be one of the team’s captains for 2011.
“Marty has always said, ‘Win or lose, it doesn’t matter, as long as you personally give it everything you have and leave everything on the field.’ I worked my ass off for it,” Vogt said.
Espinosa found his way to Webster when his father called Todt and inquired about the program.
“Carlos Espinosa’s situation is he has good technical skills and very good ability already when he came here,” Todt said. “He is able to change the pace of the game and his vision on the field is outstanding.”
The Gorloks are 5-5-1 overall and are 2-0 in the conference. The bigger chunk of their conference schedule is in front of them.
Todt said he has as much passion for coaching today as he has ever had in his entire career. The efforts and contributions of walk-on players like Buckner, Villalba, Vogt and Espinosa might have something to do with that.
“I don’t want to understate the fact that these are a great group of guys,” Todt said. “They are all great teammates and that makes it inspiring for me. Coaching is a lot of fun when you get people to come out and work as hard as they do.”

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