It’s the tail end of the 2014 Fall season, and the Rowdies are falling apart. Not long after giving up 7 goals to the eventual league champion San Antonio Scorpions, coach Ricky Hill is well on his way to an 11 game winless streak. It ends up costing him his job, just one year into a 3 year extension. Meanwhile on the bench, Defender Willie Hunt is nursing a pulled hamstring, and will sit out the last four games of the season.
Willie’s career starts as an undrafted rookie straight out of college, landing on the PDL side with the Mississippi Brilla – a soccer ministry playing on the amateur side with a significant amount of success. The year he joins, the Brilla takes first in the Southeast Conference, eventually going as far as the semifinals. From there, he is picked up by the Atlanta Silverbacks in their inaugural year in the NASL, and becomes a defensive regular there, notching 53 appearances, and scoring 5 times – his first being against then FC Tampa Bay. In 2014, coach Ricky Hill and Perry Van Der Beck invite him to join the recently re-purchased Tampa Bay Rowdies, and the versatile defender breaks into the starting lineup.
At the end of the 2014, GM Perry Van Der Beck is honest and upfront with Willie about the club’s plans – most players won’t be coming back. But he’s asked to stay in touch, in case the offer or need arises. During the offseason, a new coach, a new GM, and a new roster. The call does not come. Instead, Willie and goal keeper Ryan Thompson move on to Pittsburgh playing in the newly revamped USL. During the 2015 season, the Riverhounds not only knock the Rowdies out in the US Open Cup, but make it to the first round of the USL playoffs – with Willie notching a his first brace of headers in the match. Despite his breakout performance, the team falls to Red Bulls II with a score of 4-2. As the USL season comes to an end, the Rowdies began their final push for the final playoff spot.
Willie has never met Thomas Rongen, and knew GM Farrukh Quaraishi only in passing from his history with the club. But he does know Perry Van Der Beck, now Technical Director, and has played for the new head coach, Stuart Campbell. He knows his style of coaching, and what is to be demanded of a player under his leadership. Willie follows up as he promised after the season ended, and the return call comes.
With the transfer window rapidly approaching, Willie re-signs with the Rowdies in early October, filling a now crucial need for depth on the defensive side. Defender Ben Sweat will be sitting out of the October 10th meeting versus fall season phenomenon the Ottawa Fury, and although the Rowdies do not comment or confirm player moves, a vacancy becomes available on the defensive side of the field. Willie is committed to the team for the remainder of the year, but much like 2014, no one knows what the future holds. Speculation surrounds the head coaching position, and the common thought is that if the team misses the playoffs, there will be turnover there again. With the departure of Rongen, the expectation is that many of his players will depart for other teams, possibly wherever the charismatic Dutchman lands. Many are sure to follow. In the meantime, it’s simple one game at a time, one win at a time, and a hope for a playoff berth to keep the season alive. This time, Willie is healthy and ready to do whatever it takes to help his team win.