By: Josh Gresh '13
BEREA, OHIO – Ever since Ryan Hulings (Centerville) was little, he always wanted to achieve the dream of becoming a professional soccer player. That dream, has now come true. Hulings, who was a four-year letterman at goalkeeper for the Baldwin Wallace University Yellow Jackets, is now a member of the United Soccer League (USL) franchise the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
To be able to achieve a lifelong dream has been something that he has wanted to do after playing collegiate soccer.
"It's surreal", Hulings said. "I've always wanted to play professionally. I had the opportunity to go to several open tryouts with multiple teams such as AFC Cleveland; Dayton Dutch Lions, who I played for their under-20 team; and then Pittsburgh, who ended up being the most interested in me. I went to one tryout and they gave me the opportunity to be a member of the team."
As a goalkeeper at BW, Hulings made an impact on the soccer program and was a large part of its success in his four year.
For his career, Hulings played in 59 matches and a total of 5165:55 minutes. He allowed 1.10 goals per match and made 233 saves for a 79 percent save percentage. As a junior in 2011-12, he had his most successful season. He started in goal for 20 of 22 games and BW finished 16-6 overall and advanced to the NCAA Division III National Tournament for the first time in school history. For his efforts, he was named as the Co-Defensive Player of the Year. For his leadership, experience, and performance as a senior in 2012-13, he earned team Most Valuable Player honors.
Despite his excellence on the field at the collegiate level, Hulings was ready for the challenge.
"It is harder than people think," said Hulings, who will return to Berea this fall to finish his degree. "You have to perform every day at the highest level.
"First, it takes you a bit of time to know what performing at that level means to the folks in the front office," continued Hulings. "Once you know what is expected, you have the opportunity to settle in and get a bit more comfortable.
"It is hard knowing that you are the third-string goalie," said Hulings. "But you have to be humble. You have to know that you came from an NCAA Division III school and most of the players on the team are from Division I schools or come from Europe to play in the United States."
Once his senior year came to an end, Hulings had to think about his future and what he wanted to do to achieve his dream. It came down to the people who had supported him the most to help him with fulfilling his dream, including BW men's head soccer coach Reid Ayers.
"After this past soccer season, I asked Reid about where he thought I was at my talent level and I told him I wanted to try and play at the next level", said Hulings. "He told me that past BW soccer players have made it to the professional level, which gave me the confidence that a Division III soccer player could make it to the next level".
Ayers knows that Hulings has the potential of having success at the next level being the kind of player he has been for the past four years at Baldwin Wallace.
"Ryan is very professional and he has a professional mindset, which has helped him throughout his career", said Ayers, who is the winningest men's soccer coach in school history. "His ability to grow as a leader and grow as a player has taken his game to another level, which has made him attractive to professional teams".
Hulings knows it will take a lot of work and improvement to reach his dream.
"Rookies don't usually get an opportunity to contribute right away unless you are a dynamite player," said Hulings. "So, you have to gain experience and have a plan. My plan is to be a USL starter within five years.
"So far, I know I have improved every aspect of my game," continued Hulings. "My coaches and teammates help to make me better every day. I am the youngest player on the team, so I have to know my place on the team."
In order to achieve the dream, Hulings had to get some help from the university and his peers to be able to make it over the obstacle of being able to graduate. As a Sport Management major at BW, it is important for him to fill out the necessary requirements for him to graduate. But the fact he was studying sports made this opportunity that much more important. BW has helped him through the process of restructuring his major and class schedule to be able to have the opportunity of a lifetime.
"I think one of the lucky things about going to a school like BW is the communication you have with your professors is very high", Hulings explained. "My academic advisor [Charles] Campisi has been a huge help to me. When I was told about my opportunity I spoke and continue to speak with him constantly about adjusting my schedule so I could make this dream come true. Being a sport management major, many of my professors realize that this is a great opportunity for me to achieve my goal of being a pro soccer player".
Hulings will also have the opportunity to work on achieving his long-term goal of becoming a soccer coach. He has been doing some coaching during his spare time, but feels that he needs to gain the high level of experience coaching at the professional level to be able to move further ahead in his future goals. He will be doing an internship with the Riverhounds with the administrative staff and player development to further gain that experience to reach his goals.
"I was able to get an internship with the Riverhounds just so I can do some more 'hands on' stuff with the club", said Hulings. "Getting the experience of working with a professional organization with player development is something that I am interested in and fits into my major very well".
With a bit of experience under his belt now, Hulings and the starting goalkeeper for the Riverhounds, Hunter Gilstrap, serve as goalkeeper coaches at the University of Pittsburgh.
"Being a part of the Riverhounds organization is a great opportunity for me to both play and continue to hone my skills as a coach," said Hulings. "Everyday I am learning new things that I will be able to one day relay to my own players and hopefully to future Baldwin Wallace goalies."
Coach Ayers mentioned that selecting the right team for Hulings was essential to helping him move on with his career interests.
"It really wasn't much different to selecting a college as to what environment is the best for him in terms of ability to grow, and to play", said Ayers. "There were couple of people interested at various levels, and at the end of the day the opportunity in Pittsburgh was a level that made sense.
"The Riverhounds was the best fit for Ryan to move on in his career," continued Ayers. "Being able to play soccer at the professional level, ad then being able to coach at a high level is something that he wants to do. This simply was the right fit."
Hulings will have to take an extra semester of classes to graduate from BW. This will give him the opportunity to become a part of the BW men's soccer staff next season and continue to build his coaching .
"If it wasn't for academic advising and my professors here at BW, this dream wouldn't be possible. So I'm thankful for that", commented Hulings.
The most important support for Hulings has come from the people around him who matter most.
"I think the support that I've gotten from the players and the fans, and being told by people that I can do it, its incredible", said Hulings. "The support system at BW and within my family and friends is second to none."
During the process of trying out and waiting to hear back from the professional teams, the BW coaches really helped Hulings prepare for what was coming. They also continue to give him guidance and support, even during the rough times.
"The coaches have done a great job preparing me for the next level, especially in the mental aspect," Hulings explained. "You have to have thick skin because they are not going to take it easy on you. You have to be prepared to work every day because you are doing this for a living".
Hulings understands that being a professional player is being a full-time employee for the Riverhounds. He realizes that is the attitude he has to bring every day to the organization.
For Hulings, it also was important that those closest to him never doubted that he could make it to the next level.
"No one has ever put me down about my dream of being a Division III soccer player going to the next level," said Hulings. "There was always constant support.
"The things I'll most remember about my BW experience are my teammates, coaches, friends and family," Hulings continued. "They are the one's who have been my biggest supporters. It drives me every day that so many of the people closest to me are cheering me on to succeed".
Hulings' life drive, motivation, and hard work have been huge factors in his decision to take on the challenge of achieving a dream. His attributes exceed far beyond his age at 21, and that is something he will use to succeed in his goals.
"I hope to be an inspiration to all of those around me," said Hulings.
This is the dream that Hulings has always wanted to achieve, and making that an inspiration to others is important to him.
"If you want to achieve a dream, you have to have the drive, desire and determination necessary. And, you have to work hard. This just goes to show that hard work pays off."
FOR MORE BW SPORTS INFORMATION, please contact SID Kevin Ruple by telephone at 440-826-2327 and e-mail at email@example.com and Assistant SID Jeff Miller by telephone at 440-826-2780 and e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Fans can access the latest B-W athletics information at www.BWyellowjackets.com and we invite you to join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bwyellowjackets and Twitter at http://twitter.com/bwathletics.