WINONA LAKE – Whether one believes in a higher power or not, something was in the works for Arron Patrick and his road to becoming the Grace College men’s soccer coach.
Life on the pitch was good for Patrick, who was starting the offseason prep after finishing his fifth season on the sidelines for the Goshen College men’s soccer program. But a shift was in the works, whether Patrick knew it or not. Some slight rifts within the college had Patrick jaded but still feeling loyal to his players. Then came a text message he never thought would come.
“The timing couldn’t have been better, but couldn’t have been more strange,” Patrick said of the text message outgoing Grace College head coach Matt Hotchkin sent Patrick announcing he was leaving and the job opening could be his. “I certainly wasn’t expecting that.“
Even within the process, Patrick still felt torn. Curious about a possible change to greener pastures, Patrick got into his truck and began his drive from Elkhart, where he and his wife, Callie, had built their new home. Listening to one of his favorite songs, he felt a will to fight through flowing tears and a present fear, and keep working down those country roads to Winona Lake. Patrick eventually made it and met with Grace College athletic director Chad Briscoe and the college brass.
The rest as they say, is history.
“I had the radio on and I wanted to turn around and go back to Goshen, but something just told me to keep driving,” Patrick said. “I was balling in the car, just crying, and I kept trying to talk myself out of it. I wanted to turn around. But something kept me driving and eventually I got to campus and went into the meeting.”
Once Patrick was in the fold, it didn’t take long for the family to come on board, as well. “Callie has been to Winona Lake more in the past couple of months than she had maybe ever,” Arron said. “We’re building a home down here. I’ve been told we’re not moving again. But I’m OK with that. We really love it here.”
That notion of moving for soccer had been discussed before with the Patricks. Having met on campus as athletes at Bethel College, Arron a senior soccer star and Callie three years younger as a freshman volleyballer, their bond grew quickly. Once Arron finished up at Bethel, he began to test the professional soccer ranks, and found himself with an opportunity to play first in Turkey then with the Wilmington Hammerheads in North Carolina. Problem was, however, that the two had just purchased a home in Elkhart County. Renting out the home, the two left for North Carolina. As the experience panned out in Wilmington, their calling was pulling them back to Elkhart County.
Arron eventually took the head coaching job at Goshen College, while Callie started her coaching career replacing legendary coach Carla Herschberger as successor at Fairfield High School. As the two have since added two children and Callie stepped away from Fairfield, the move to Winona Lake seems like a real leap of faith.
“I just bought a new truck and I can’t afford the gas driving down from Elkhart every day,” laughed Patrick. “The kids are in an age where they aren’t in full-time school yet, and really we want to be part of this community and immersed in it. The kids also love Rocket Fizz, too, so that’s a bonus. We want to be fully invested in the school here and with the program. We didn’t quite have that at Goshen. We didn’t feel like we could fully be invested there like we should be.”
Patrick and Hotchkin had a lot of connections together in the Crossroads League, even before Patrick became coach at Goshen. As a All-American forward with the Pilots, Patrick laughed about an incident where Hotchkin had tried to defend specifically against him. When Patrick scored on the Lancers despite the added attention, an exchange between the two became a talking point for years to come, and ironically at the time, a bond. Years later, their friendship remains strong, and Patrick didn’t mince words about taking over for the longtime coach of the Lancers, who is now manager of Bob Jones University in South Carolina.
“Matt is an unbelievable coach, and he’s got the pieces in place here to win and win now,” Patrick said. “The boys are ready for that next step. They are tired of finishing second. They are tired of losing in the first round of nationals. It’s like a shark, they smell the blood in the water and it goes in for the kill. We need more blood in the water. We need to go in and be ruthless. When we play a team that we can beat 10-nil, don’t beat them 5-nil, beat them 10-nil. Or 11, or 12, and always have the mindset of go after the next one.”
Patrick brings a unique flare to a Grace program starving to get over the hump. Unapologetic in his approach, Patrick likes to employ a ‘controlled chaos’ style of soccer that mixes formations, attacking styles, defensive pressures and gives virtually everyone on the pitch a chance to make a statement. Patrick, himself from Grimsby, England, feels the melting pot roster Grace currently has, which is amalgamated with a dozen nationalities, is built for success in its hybrid nature. Structured in very much a professional club format, the attitudes of a Brazilian forward and a German midfielder playing in front of Italian and Caribbean defenders along with American wings lends to upbringings that all create the monster that is Patrick’s vision.
It’s just a matter of fit and finish for Patrick and the Lancers.
“One advantage I have is that I am an international coming from Europe,” noted Patrick. “My style of football is a collection of the best things from different cultures that I like and kind of mash them together. I like to take the best of Brazil and Mexico, which is completely different from England and France. We touch every continent here, which is pretty cool to have that many different viewpoints on how the game can be played.”
Patrick can only smile at his new path in life. The family will begin work on a new home in Kosciusko County soon. The Grace soccer season is just days away, and possibly the last of the Alex Morgan printouts have been found. The image of Morgan, simulating a spot of tea after scoring a goal against his beloved England in the World Cup semis last month, was put in nearly every possible place Patrick would frequent on campus. Hundreds of photos, each in its own way saying, “Welcome to Grace.”
The ribbing is worth it, knowing he has found a new home. One he can feel was worth the risk.