Men’s soccer turns to Hopkins’ leadership program during postponed season


Sam Mayo

Then-freshman forward Hunter George dribbles the ball while being pursued by an Oregon State player during the Aztecs’ 1-0 overtime loss to the Beavers on Oct. 24, 2019 at the SDSU Sports Deck.

by Brandon Freed, Staff Writer

On Aug. 11, the Pac-12 Conference announced the cancellation of fall sports through the end of 2020 due to COVID-19. With that in place, San Diego State men’s soccer is trying to stay as involved as possible by maintaining a positive attitude and focusing their attention on a newly-established leadership program started by head coach Ryan Hopkins. 

The team is currently utilizing Zoom to stay in contact with each other. They meet every Friday to talk about other ideas involved in society. 

 “I designed a leadership program based on leadership books I’ve read in the past,” Hopkins told The Daily Aztec. “A couple topics that we’ve talked about so far are maximizing potential, racism, diversity, inclusion and social justice, which was really powerful.” 

The new program has allowed the team to learn more about each other. For Hopkins, he loves getting to know more and more about his team — especially since he is a first-year head coach. 

“It’s been really awesome for me just being able to understand my team individually,” Hopkins said. “Some of these guys are like they’ve never had a coach that cared about me or cared about me as a person or tried to develop these things in me, so I’ve enjoyed it. Guys have really taken to it.”

Outside of Zoom, the team is taking a break right now from soccer activities. Before the shut down, the team was able to get three weeks of practice in. 

“The practices were a little challenging for us as well, because we couldn’t have any contact with one another,” Hopkins said. “All we could do was pass the ball around while maintaining a distance of at least six feet apart.” 

Hopkins said having the mere opportunity to get back out on the field helped the team mentally.

“The biggest challenge for our players right now is their mental health, because they’re so wrapped up in being soccer players and taking away soccer for them could be mentally draining,” Hopkins said. “That’s why we talk about what are you outside of soccer because at some point (soccer) is all going to end anyways, so we kind of force them to face these issues maybe a little earlier than they normally would have.”

The Aztecs are hoping for a spring return to action. Hopkins said the team continues to hold meetings with the Pac-12 Conference about a season resumption and what the season could potentially look like.

“Whenever we’re able to play again, the guys on the team will be ready,” Hopkins said. “I think in 25 years, these guys want to look back and say this was the team that put us on the map and that turned the culture around for San Diego State men’s soccer.” 

Redshirt senior winger Laukoa Santos said the team is staying positive and focusing on learning more about each other during the postponement. 

“We’ve been a positive group since sports went down,” Santos said. “It was tough at first, but coach and some of us older guys have rejuvenated the spirit in the young guys.”

The Waikoloa, Hawaii native has appreciated the online exercises the team has been participating in since the season postponement was announced.

“I found out a lot about myself and my teammates through these exercises,” Santos said. “Hopkins has done a really good job of integrating our team through online resources. He’s doing the most with what he can.”

Santos said the team wasn’t surprised the season was postponed. 

“Before the season stopped, I felt I was playing my best soccer last spring and over summer. It was a big bomb because I was more motivated than ever, but I expected it,” Santos said. “Postponement made me realize that you just need to take things day by day, make the most of each day.”

Santos said safety is number one priority but he can’t wait to get back on the field with his teammates once they are cleared to play. 

“I can’t wait to play the beautiful game when we get back,” Santos said. “You don’t really know how valuable something is until it’s taken away from you. I miss the fans and my family in the stands watching me and support me for playing the game I love and worked so hard for.”