By RON FANFAIR
The beginning and the end were fulfilling for 21-year-old Matthew Groves. His Duquesne University team made the playoffs in his freshman season before bowing out to then nationally-ranked number one seed St. Louis in the Atlantic 10 championship in 2006.
In his final college game last December, the Pickering resident netted two of the goals in his team’s 3-1 victory over St. Bonaventure.
The team, however, struggled in his sophomore and junior seasons winning just five games each year. It also failed to reach the play-offs last season registering nine victories.
“A total of six players graduated after my first year and the coach who recruited me (Wade Jean) left after the first year,” said Groves, a psychology major who appeared in 17 contests in his freshman season. “The new coach (Jake Ouimet) came in and made some significant adjustments. He was defensive oriented and wanted his players to counter attack. It was more of a kick and run game.
“It was definitely not much fun in the last three seasons, but I enjoyed my college career and made the most of the experience.”
The West Creek Public School and Dunbarton High School graduate now has his sights set on playing professional soccer in Europe.
“The standard of play there is high and very competitive,” said Groves who toured Germany with the Metro Lions Under-19 side four years ago. “That was a great experience because there were all good players who were professionals on and off the field. I certainly learned a lot on that trip and that would be my preferred destination to play the sport for a club at the top level.”
Groves also toured The Netherlands and Belgium with Duquesne as part of the university’s pre-season preparation. The team won three of its four matches – the other ended in a tie – during the 11-day trip.
Growing up, there were always soccer balls in Groves’ home to kick around. His father, Junior Groves, captained top Jamaican club side Harbour View, won a soccer scholarship to Cheyney University in Pennsylvania and played for Club Phanellenic in the National Soccer League.
“My son became interested in the sport at around four years old and I coached him on my own and allowed him to play with some of the older guys each Saturday by the time he was six,” recalled the 1982 Jamaica Player of the Year. “Playing from such a young age has enabled him to develop the skill, flair and toughness that he has exhibited at the high school and college level.”
The skilful forward intends to pursue a Masters in Psychology after he earns his first degree this spring.
“I wanted to get into the Social Work field because I love interacting with young people,” he said.
“On a recent trip back home, Groves took time out of his busy schedule to talk to the Whitby Soccer Club Under-12 team.
“Every opportunity I get, I enjoy sharing my experiences with young people and talking to them about the importance of them staying in school and acquiring a good education,” he said. “I went to university to play soccer, but I am leaving with a degree and something that nobody can take away from me. That piece of paper is more important than any ball I will kick in my life.”
Groves’ cousin, Brooke McCalla who represented the University of Buffalo, was recently invited to try out for Jamaica. Groves said he will answer the call to represent his parents’ birth country if it comes along.