Brownwood High School graduate Michael Westerman seems in peak form for his senor year with goals in four of the Howard Yellow Jackets soccer team’s first six games.
Westerman netted the Yellow Jackets’ only goal of the day on a penalty kick against conference rival Louisiana College in a 1-0 victory and credits his scoring surge to restored confidence thanks to a reconstructed knee, reinvigorated coaching staff and teammates he has played alongside since high school.
“Last season, being my first season back, in the back of my head I was thinking about the injury,” Westerman said. “I was hesitant going into 50-50 balls or making sharp cuts. After last season, it was a reassurance my knee was healthy. It’s good and I can play at this level now. I’ve done well. I’ve scored four goals this season in six games. I’m doing well so far and hopefully I can keep it consistent throughout the season.”
Westerman’s track from 2013 BHS graduate to 2018 HPU senior midfielder was not exactly a straight line. He initially attended then Division II McMurry University in Abilene, but transferred to Brownwood after learning the War Hawks dropped down to Division III, subsequently cutting scholarships to its athletic programs. Westerman said he talked to former BHS teammate Dylan Person, a track athlete at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, and after a year out of competition decided come back home with Person as a teammate.
“Graduating from Brownwood, I always told myself I wanted to play at a higher level … I played there in the fall, but then in the spring the university went back to Division III and athletic scholarships were cut,” Westerman said. “I took a year off and came back home. I had a friend I went to Brownwood with and he was at Arkansas running and he wanted to come back to Brownwood as well. Me and him communicated with each other and made the decision to come to Howard Payne to play.”
Along with Person, Westerman also joined fellow BHS alums Tim Murphy and Reid Longabaugh. In his first season with the Yellow Jackets Westerman saw significant time on the pitch starting six of 14 games. His torn ACL sidelined him for 2016 and, despite coming off major surgery only a month before the start of the 2017 season, he returned to start 12 of 14 games with three goals, two assists and was named honorable mention all-conference.
“I tore my ACL in 2016 so I missed that year so this is my fourth. I had no idea I tore my ACL,” Westerman said. There was no swelling and I wasn’t in any pain. There was tightness. It just felt stiff. I went three months until I found out it was torn. Then, I saw a doctor, got an MRI and got it confirmed I tore it. I had some meniscus problems and so I tore it on March 6, had surgery May 13 and was out until November 14. It was a total of nine months. It was hard coming back from that.”
With his health issues at bay and now deeply ensconced in second-year coach Eanna O’Gorman’s system, Westerman feels the Yellow Jackets are primed for a breakout year. They currently sit at 3-3, but Westerman feels his team is far better than the team O’Gorman nearly lead into the playoffs in an abbreviated first year as head coach.
“Coming into this season, the coaches did a phenomenal job transforming the locker room. It almost felt like a new program coming in this fall,” Westerman said. “We brought in a total of 31 players on the roster, many, many more players. Last year, O’Gorman came in at the last minute and our season is already crunched enough. It was hard for him coming in so late to implement a lot of the things he wanted to implement. Having last season, the spring season and this summer, this year we’re a lot more prepared and the environment is a professional environment.”