Following an undefeated run to the District 34-4A soccer championship, Brownwood Lion senior teammates Michael Westerman and Tim Murphy celebrated Wednesday morning at Warren Gym by signing national letters of intent to continue their playing careers at NCAA Division II McMurry University.
"These guys are being rewarded for their hard work and their talent by getting to go to school and play sports," said Lions head coach J.B. Gibbs. "After being on the high end as a senior in high school, now they are going back to the bottom as freshmen again. But if they work hard and stick with it, I think they'll have great careers at McMurry and will end up being two- to three-year starters."
Both Westerman and Murphy stated they've been interested in the McMurry program for several years, and felt the fit with head coach Paul Tate was ideal.
"I wanted to go there and play soccer since I was little," Murphy said. "I've gone to camps there and when Coach Tate invited me, I wanted to play there for him. He's such a good coach and they have such a good program."
Added Westerman, "I've always like the McMurry soccer program. I've gone to camps there and really enjoyed it. Soccer is what really got me, and after the soccer part I looked into the campus and liked the size of it, the people there and the program."
Westerman — the co-midfield MVP of District 34-4A — was one of two captains for the Lions this season, while Murphy gave up his spot as a starting forward to become the team's goalkeeper.
"Michael, three years ago as a sophomore, was always at the back of the line in cross country, struggling to finish, and he didn't look happy about having to do it," Gibbs said. "But something clicked within in him where decided if he could be good at that, he could be good at soccer. Once that clicked, he's taken off and been one of this program's leaders in many ways. He's one of best leaders I've ever coached. He does everything right whether it's on the field or off the field.
"Tim did one of the most unselfish things I've ever seen this season. He'd been a starter at forward and he gave that up because he knew we needed a goal keeper. He chose to do that on his own, I didn't have to ask. We had a great year and had we not had him in goal, I don't think we would have been nearly as successful. That was a big step by a big man."
Westerman and Murphy both stated they will fondly remember their 10-0 run through district as seniors, especially when they entered the program during a one-win campaign.
"Coming from one win as a freshman to 10-0 in district my senior year, it felt great knowing I had a big part in winning a district championship by stepping up and playing goalie for us," Murphy said. "Being undefeated made it that much more special and brought everyone on the team closer together."
Added Westerman, "It meant a lot to us. Coming from our freshman year where we won one game and looking at my senior year where we went undefeated in district, that's something I'm always going to remember. I'll never forget this time. It was a great way to end my senior year and now I'm looking forward to the next step."
Westerman and Murphy acknowledged the battle for playing time as freshmen will be a challenge, but in four years they are hopeful their playing careers will extend past their days at McMurry.
"Coach Tate knows people who can hook us up with the Professional Development League, so when I'm not playing during the season I'm hoping to hook up with a PDL team," Westerman said. "I'd like to pursue a soccer career through the minor leagues after college and I hope to make it as a pro one day."
Added Murphy, "After college one day I hope I can play in the MLS for FC Dallas. At least that's what I'm hoping."
The senior duo also offered thanks to those who have helped them achieve their goal of reaching the collegiate level as soccer players.
"I would like to thank Coach Gibbs for helping me get to where I am," Murphy said. "He helped me a lot in goal and let me come out every now and then and get touches on the ball. I also want to thank my parents for always taking me to tournaments and games and coming out on late nights when they had work the next day."
Added Westerman, "I definitely want to thank my family and Coach Gibbs for sure. He's really helped me out a lot, and my teammates helped me through the tough workouts and helped me stay motivated. They've all helped me get to where I am now."