By Jonathan Deal
While his friends and soccer teammates grew up wanting to score goals, Hunter Brown always wanted to keep them out of the net. Brown is the News Courier’s 2013 Soccer Player of the Year after leading a stout Athens defense this season.
Brown entered 2013 as one of the unquestioned leaders of the Golden Eagles who led by example. As a four-year starter, he anchored an Athens defense that allowed a paltry 0.43 goals per game, including 14 shutouts.
Defensive mentality is something he picked up as soon as he could kick a soccer ball.
“I have played defense my whole life,” said Brown. “I like being one of the last guys back so I can see the entire field and tell the other players ‘man on’ or where to pass or turn.”
Brown leaves Athens as one of the most experienced soccer players in school history. As a four-year starter, he has played in nearly 80 games, always on the back line.
“We knew right off the bat that he was going to be good,” said Athens head coach Ron Oakley. “Hunter always played with a lot of confidence. He had played that (position) in club before. He was the guy you want in front of you as goalkeeper. You knew he was going to have somebody marked on every play.”
Brown is part of a senior class that had three other players — Wynn Baker, Christopher Gregory and Devin Hooie — that saw significant playing time as freshmen. But Brown was the difference maker. As the last line of defense, he had to organize the nine or 10 players in front of the center back position.
“Starting as a freshman, it took a few games to get use to the physicality of varsity games. But I was used to the skill level from playing with my club team,” said Brown. “I think we’ve always had a pretty good defense. Me, Andrew (McNutt), and Charlie (Holland) all started last year and we picked up Taylor Berry, who instantly caught on to our style of play. So I think it was just more experience and good chemistry in the back line.”
With each shutout, the Golden Eagles rose in the rankings until holding the No.1 spot in 5A for most of the season. Athens finished the regular season as the only team in the state, regardless of classification, to finish undefeated entering the postseason.
During that regular season, Athens won 19 games, tied once and outscored opponents 65-7. Athens finished the year runner-up in Class 5A and fourth overall in a coaches poll that included all classifications.
Included in Athens 21 wins this season are three against an East Limestone team that finished in the top five in Class 5A. Brown and the Athens defense shutout East’s star forward, Dilan Sayer (who scored 28 goals this season), for 239 minutes until the sophomore scored from the penalty spot to send the game into overtime in a second-round playoff match.
“He did a great job against Dilan (Sayer),” said Oakley. “We did not want to get in a one-on-one with Dilan. Hunter aligned the defense. He would have everyone in position. A lot of that has to do with his soccer IQ. He has good anticipatory skills and he’s got that intangible speed.”
In an era where athletes are rewarded for the numbers they put on a stat sheet, Brown excelled at denying opponents that opportunity. The senior was as dominant at his position as anyone in the state.
“Defenders don’t get as much credit. It’s always about who scores the most,” said Oakley. “Soccer is a defensive game and Hunter has done a great job with our defense. His leadership has been invaluable.”
Player of the Year
Hunter Brown, Athens
Wynn Baker, Athens
Devin Hooie, Athens
Christopher Gregory, Athens
Dean Bunnell, Athens
Ryan Crews, Athens Bible
Mitchell Mathis, East Limestone
Chris Kenny, East Limestone
Dilan Sayer, East Limestone
Michael Jarrell, East Limestone
Daniel Leon, Tanner
Will Baker, Athens; Andrew McNutt, Athens; Benjamin Munoz, Athens Bible; Alexander Mingus, East Limestone; James Taylor, East Limestone; Zach Craver, East Limestone; Angel Leon, Tanner; Austin Blankenship, Ardmore; Luis Garcia, West Limestone.