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August 27, 2013 at 4:45 PM

More quotes and pictures from a story on Clint Dempsey’s roots

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By now, you’ve probably seen it, but if not, here is a feature story I wrote on Sounders FC’s Clint Dempsey, who has stayed true to his roots amid a rise to stardom.

I talked to a number of people for the story, including his high school coach Farshid Niroumand, who passed along some team pictures of the Nacogdoches Dragons. I also drove through East Texas myself to check out Dempsey’s hometown, where everyone — young and old — knew of and have been rooting on the local product.

Dempsey’s path took him to Furman University, a small college in South Carolina, and I also talked to his coach there, Doug Allision, and former teammate Anthony Esquivel, who you might recognize from his role in the kids soccer movie The Big Green. The university also provided some action shots.

Here are extra quotes from those interviews, with more pictures at the end:

*     *     *

FARSHID NIROUMAND, coach at Nacogdoches High School

On when he first got to know Clint as a player…

“I coached his older brother, Ryan, and Clint was coming to my soccer camp when I was running those summer camps as an elementary kid. I was always impressed with his ball handling. He was very comfortable with the soccer ball compared to the others. His movement was very fluid and I always thought he was going to be a very good player. At that age and that time, I didn’t think he was going to go as far as he has — truthfully — because being from a small town in East Texas, there aren’t many opportunities. But you could tell that there was something inside burning.”

On the Clint-led Nacogdoches High School teams…

“It was in his yearbook, they asked: ‘What are your goals? What are your hopes?’ and it’s well documented that he said one day he wants to play professional in Europe. And it came true. When he came to high school, he was very impressive. He was mature. As a freshman I played him varsity. Physically then was pretty small, however he was very crafty and gradually became an impact player. As a sophomore, he was a pretty key player. As a junior and senior he was running the team basically. He was the man. We were fortunate in that time and that era: we had really, really good players that challenged him a lot. Frankly his teammates didn’t care if he was at practice or not because he was so imposing and challenging but certainly they wanted him in games. We were in a very tough district, the largest schools in East Texas, and all the opponents and the coaches respected him, frankly feared him, at the same time resented him at times, because he was very dominant. Skill-wise he would dominate, and once in a while he would say words that really agitated those kids. These days we call it trash talking, but it wasn’t really trash talking, and I recall many, many occasions I had to get him out of the game because I knew the other team was targeting to hurt him or make him respond to get red card. It was one of their goals to hurt him or get him out of the game, so I had to be really a manager.”

On Dempsey’s personality…

“Personality-wise he was very low key. He made friends with all his high school classmates, didn’t care what race they were. Socialable. Friendly. Didn’t talk to much after every game, good or bad. He would say, ‘Holla at you,’ and he’d leave. Then the next day we’d talk about the game. Academically Clint was very, very intelligent, something people don’t realize. As much time as he spent on the field and traveling back and forth to Dallas, he was always a very good student. … As much as we’d butt heads with each other, he turned out to be probably the most loyal supporter of me. I’m still in touch with him. I’m in touch with his family. He’s very generous with his time, almost weekly I get two or three phone calls, they bring pictures or items they want to be autographed by Clint, and he always responds positively. If I mail it to him, he’ll sign or if he was in town he’d sign. He’s just a good old country boy.”

On Dempsey coming back to MLS…

“When he was playing in Europe, knowing Clint, I always thought he was a tiger in a cage. He was afraid of losing the ball. Knowing him, he did not feel comfortable holding the ball as long as he’d like to. He was forced to play one-touch, two-touch or release the ball quickly. Clint has a very, very beautiful game of soccer if they let him hold the ball a little longer. Being in America, I think opportunity will arise. You’ll see a better side of Clint — better soccer from Clint, more attractive, more productive.”

Some other various notes from Niroumand…

“Close to his retirement, I’m planning on going to the city council and requesting one of the soccer fields, not the whole complex, but at least one of the soccer fields will be named after Clint Dempsey. So when they play, they’ll say, ‘Where are they playing?’ and you’d say, ‘Clint Dempsey Field.’

“Another interesting thing, his older brother wore no. 11 in high school. Clint wore No. 11 four years. His younger brother wore it for four years, so no. 11 is Dempsey and actually we have retired that number.

“The very first thing I thought when people ask me (about Clint coming back) is, ‘Oh good, he’ll get to fish a lot.'”

DOUG ALLISON, Furman University coach

On how Clint will handle so many media responsibilities here (Ed note: the interview was not long after Dempsey’s media tour in New York)…

“He’ll take that in stride. You learn a lot from the press in England. I’m from England, and they’re pretty unforgiving, so he’s learned a lot I’m sure from living over there. But he was quite a character here. If you remember he was quite a rap star at that point. He made the video, the song ‘Don’t Tread,’ and he was always rapping in the locker room with the guys. I actually met up with him last year before the Scotland game in Jacksonville with a few ex-teammates. He was talking about how close it was here and how much of a family it was. The team was so close and he loved being part of it. He was definitely a team player. He was a team guy, but he had just an amazing amount of talent. He was a big guy, too. People don’t realize how big he is. He definitely had strength to hold people off. The amount of things he learned how to do, he learned to do them in the right areas. His goal scoring and his movement in the box are just amazing now. The way he moves and the way he continues to move in the box and continues plays when everyone thinks things are finished, that’s how he gets a lot of goals.”

On were some of the qualities you remember most…

“He had a lot of potential as a young boy. You could tell how dedicated he was because of his parents; they used to drive him for hours between Nacogdoches and Dallas to play for the Texans. The amount of dedication they had. The drive he had after his sister passed away. He met his wife here and met a lot of amazing teammate here. He still keeps in touch with a lot of his former teammates and keeps in touch with us, which is great. He hasn’t forgotten his roots. He keeps in touch with his high school coach as well as his club coaches. He’s always very welcoming. Every time he’s gone over to England or seen him at national team event, he gives you a big hug and he loves talking about Furman. He loves the stories from Furman and the different things he did here. He’s never forgotten.”

On if he could tell how close the Dempsey family is…

“Unbelievably close. They still are. He doesn’t come from much, Clint, so he does realize and welcomes what he gets. He’s a family guy, and when he won the Honda Player of the Year when he was in MLS, he got his dad a truck, so that’s the kind of guy he is and that’s the kind of people they are. Clint made the Hall of Fame at Furman and he couldn’t make it — he was playing for Fulham.  His parents came and we put them up in a hotel and it was surprising, they didn’t know where the hotel was. It was the biggest hotel in downtown Greenville. I said, ‘Well, you’ve been here every week to see him for three years, and they said, ‘We couldn’t afford a hotel.’ They camped here. That’s the kind of family you’re coming from. They’re so dedicated. The dad is honest as the day is long. His dad is such an honest, honest man and humble, humble man, and he was very nervous when he had to give his speech. When Clint got his Hall of Fame award, he had to give the speech and it was such a poignant speech. It really was. He’s such an amazing man. He’s very down to earth. He’s still their little boy, there’s no question.”

On how Dempsey still is to the program and how often he comes up in recruiting…

“They know; the kids know. He’s such a popular guy, such a face. He carries himself the right way. Of course we bring it up in recruiting that he was here. We’d be silly not to, but we also bring up Ricardo (Clark), (Shea) Salinas, (Walker) Zimmerman and also guys not in pros doing well in the medical profession or as teachers. It’s a really a good school. Recruits all want to know how Clint was, and he was just another one of the guys.”

ANTHONY ESQUIVEL, Furman University teammate

On having to come in as the face of the league and everything that comes along with it (e.g. media responsibilities)…

“Knowing Clint, I think he’s always looked to take on challenges. That’s what is great about him. He’s never quite satisfied and he’s always been able to keep that hunger. I definitely think he’ll see this as another challenge for him to up his game even more and help Seattle and help the league out as a different role — more than just a player. I think he’ll be up for it.”

On those Furman days with Clint…

“I remember him as a recruit coming to Furman. I’m two years older than him, but I got to know him really well because at that time there weren’t many Texas players here at Furman. I knew he was from Texas, I knew he played for the Dallas Texans and I knew his club coach. I knew he looking at coming to Furman, so we connected right off the bat being from Texas and having some familiar connections. There were just a handful of us, so we always talked about how great Texas is, of course. Furman is a really, really small school, about 2,000 students, and the soccer team is what we’re known for in terms of athletics, so we were a really, really tight-knit group. I got to know Clint really well over the years, and even after he’s gone on, his wife and my wife were sorority sisters and they’re best friends, so we’ve always been able to keep in touch. I’ve seen him in England a few times and she’s been over there and stayed with the whole family at their house. It’s been good to see him progress from a little recruit, having a tough preseason his freshman year, and then getting his first call into the national team while we were here in Furman. Then obviously going through and being drafted, it’s just been one thing after another. It’s been really neat to see. I give people a hard time because everyone is always like, ‘You played with Clint?’ I go, ‘Yeah, by the way, I was the MVP of the Furman team. I used to meg him in practice.’ (laughs) … And you know Clint, he was like a big rapper. We used to sit in the back of the bus and there was a big group of us. I think Eminem and 8 Mile were really big at that time, so we all thought we could rap. We had some good times.”

On how Clint has changed…

“You know honestly, he hasn’t really changed at all. It’s funny. His personality is exactly how he was ten years ago. That’s what is great about it. He has always been hungry. He has always been driven. He has always played with a chip on his shoulder. He has always been like that, so that hasn’t really changed. I think he’s just doing what he wants to do. This is what he was made to do. I remember when we were in college, there were times on Friday night when, as normal college kids, we were thinking about what party we were going to. We drove by the stadium and Clint would be out there with 20 balls doing drills by himself. He’s always had that mentality, and obviously look at where he’s at right now. He’s had to have that drive and determination. That hasn’t really changed. I still see that out of him. When we speak and when I hear him speak, he’s always talking about how he needs to take on new challenges. He wanted to play in Champions League, so he wasn’t satisfied at Fulham and goes to Tottenham. Now it’s a new challenge for him to be the face of MLS, help grow the game here and prepare for the next World Cup. He’s still goofy. He’s still fun. He still loves to fish. He’s still a Texas boy.”

On if he remembers any ‘wow’ moments with Dempsey…

“Yeah, there were a lot of times. He was doing things with the ball that a lot of us hadn’t seen yet. We always thought that Dempsey was kind of like an And-1 soccer player. In basketball at the time And-1 was about all these tricks, and he was doing these juggling tricks and the snake and all the new moves. In soccer terms, they weren’t just the basic dribbling moves. He was always trying to come up with new creative moves and actually use them in practice. Coach Allison, I remember there were plenty of times when he was constantly on Clint to play simple and keep possession and do things in certain areas. But he was always trying to be super creative. His idea of playing was different from us. Basically he had the confidence to do things that we would goof around and try in practice but really we wouldn’t have the confident or courage to do it in games. He was doing it in games. I can remember specifically there was a game in my senior year in the NCAA tournament against VCU. I think we were in the third round, in the Sweet Sixteen, and it was one of those games where you remember there wasn’t a better player on the field than Clint Dempsey. I think we won on penalty kicks, but their ‘keeper made like two or three great saves. On one, Clint had flipped the ball up, the ball was played behind him, he flicked it up with his heel over his head and out of the air he hit a half volley, something crazy that you wouldn’t think happened happened. The ‘keeper made a unbelievable save, but we were all like, ‘Oh wow.’ He dominated that game and that was his sophomore year. By the end of his sophomore year, I graduated and I just knew that he was the man on the team — and we had Ricardo Clark. We had some good players. It was just he had a swagger. He’s always had a swagger and it started coming together for him in college really. As a player, he was a good recruit for us and he was on the region team, but it wasn’t until he got to Furman really where he finally got called into U.S. U-20 camp. Every year he just kept getting better and better and took advantage of his opportunities. Some players peak at 22 or 23; I don’t know if he’s even peaked yet. I think he’s getting better and better every year, and he’s 30 years old now.”

*     *     *

Courtesy of Farshid Niroumand

Courtesy of Farshid Niroumand

Courtesy of Farshid Niroumand

Courtesy of Farshid Niroumand

Courtesy of Farshid Niroumand

Courtesy of Farshid Niroumand

Courtesy of Furman Athletics

Courtesy of Furman Athletics

Courtesy of Furman Athletics

Courtesy of Furman Athletics

Courtesy of Furman Athletics

Courtesy of Furman Athletics

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