Springfield, and Springfield SC, has another representative in the Big 10. Goalkeeper Tommy Tombridge (Kickapoo 2009) verbally committed to the Wildcats a week ago, where he’ll play for Head Coach Tim Lenahan at the campus on Lake Michigan, in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, IL.
Unlike many of the players I’ve talked to about their recruiting experience, playing college ball wasn’t necessarily on his radar screen. A bit hard to imagine with an older brother who is part of the squad at Washington University (Bryson, Kickapoo 2007) and a club team that will likely see every single player go onto to college ball, it was just a question of time for this young man. So despite carrying a 30 ACT score into the recruiting fray along with his considerable skills, it’s another reminder that goalkeepers are a special breed.
The wake up call came last year after the Springfield SC U16’s lost to the eventual regional champion Michigan Wolves in the semifinals of the Region 2 tournament. Soon after his return to Springfield he began to receive email invitations to consider attending College Camp programs from half a dozen coaches interested in introducing their program to him (NCAA rules limit the contact to that level apparently). He attended the Goalkeeper Camp at Marquette the summer of 2007 and continued his training with Springfield SC, and more importantly Jesse Miech, now GK coach at Clemson University. It wasn’t until March of this year, following the Dallas Cup, that Northwestern became part of the recruiting picture. It was there that Lenahan first saw him play, on the recommendation of the Akron Zip’s coaching staff who saw the team at the Disney Cup the previous December.
Interspersed among these Showcase opportunities, Tommy had begun identifying programs he was interested in and contacting them. He also took the ACT test. Twice! So when the opportunity arose in Dallas, he was ready. Coach Lenehan saw the first game, a 3-2 win. While that never hurts, the feedback Tombridge received later was that his academic results were a requirement before Northwestern would even talk to him. That, along with the earlier recommendation, are what brought Northwestern to his sideline among the many options available to a coach at the Dallas Cup.
NCAA rules don’t allow direct contact at that point but an invitation to visit the Northwestern campus was extended. Tommy did his overnight visit in April, when the Club team was scheduled to be in Rockford IL for MRL games. April in Chicago can be pretty darn nice (in between the snow showers that are always possible) and the Coaches, team and campus made a big impression on him.
There was still more to be done however with additional discussions continuing with programs like Wisconsin, Bradley, Missouri State and Tulsa among others. And then in April, once Coach Miech arrived on campus at Clemson, Tommy was suddenly on the radar screen for an ACC team as well.
I asked Jeremy Alumbaugh, Director of Soccer Operations at Springfield SC, about Tommy and the recruiting process. He had some very interesting things to offer:
Recruiting is an especially difficult process for goalkeepers. There are always questions. The games at Regionals as well as the Showcase events the boys qualified for this year test the entire team and allow constant evaluation. That plays an important role.
More importantly though, Tommy is a player who is focused on pushing himself to the top. I’ve worked with some excellent goalkeepers, from Matt Modersohn (MSU), Brad Guzan (2 time national champ with the Chicago Magic, now at Fulham) as well as Matt Pickens and Lance Parker. Only Guzan came close to Tommy’s work rate. He just likes to work. The individual effort he has put in has taken his game up significantly and is going to help him reach the next level.
The final decision for Tommy came down to Clemson and Northwestern. ACC or Big Ten. After attending the Northwestern camp in mid-July, he had verbal offers from both programs and a decision to make. It’s the purple of the Wildcats that we’ll be following. His decision was based upon the academic opportunities, with a major still to be determined. He’s not admitting to any need to be closer to home but that’s OK, I’ll accept that answer. The Northwestern home field has to qualify as one of the most scenic in the Midwest. That’s Ann Cook, Springfield native and assistant at Penn State, pictured at a game last Fall I covered. Lake Michigan is located a stone’s throw behind her in this photo, with the campus stretching for a significant distance along the lake.
I also have a better idea of how I’ll be spending my birthday this year. Northwestern renews their rivalry with SLU, playing at Hermann Stadium on Tuesday September 30th at 7:00 pm. They last played to a 1-1 draw in an exhibition game last August. Before that, Northwestern knocked the Billikens out in the 2nd round of the NCAA playoffs in 2006 enroute to a Quarterfinal finish.
So I’m a happy camper. I’m looking forward to watching the battles between Devon Newport and Tombridge in the future. Club teammates now, college foes soon. Now I’m off to figure out who “Explosions In The Sky” is, Tommy’s pre-game music choice. Congrats Christopher ‘Tommy’ Tombridge! UPDATE – as noted, the other Big 10 player (besides Rachel Lavoy at Purdue) will be Graham Basecke who will be playing for the Indiana Hoosiers. That’s what I get for finishing this story at 2:30 am