Story by Union College Sports Information
BARBOURVILLE, Ky. – Several current and former Union College men's soccer players have spent the summer playing and coaching for the Knoxville Force, a member of the National Premier Soccer League.
Leading the way for the Force has been current Union assistant coach Jonathan Shaw and Luke Hitchman (SO/Chester, England), who are members of the Force's main roster while serving as starters on the pitch. Steve Beilby (SO/York, England) is a member of the practice squad for the Force. Also adding more Union ties to the Force is Bulldog head coach Tyler Brock. Brock serves as the assistant head coach of the Force under Paulo Neto, a standout star for Union from 1999-2002.
The Force are a member of the Southeast Conference; which sports teams from Chattanooga, Atlanta, Nashville and New Orleans. The Southeast Conference has produced the last three NPSL National Champions. Through seven matches on the season, the Force have complied a 0-4-3 record with three matches remaining in the regular season. The Force average three practices a week while playing two matches per week as well.
Leading the pack of Bulldogs has been Shaw, who serves as the starting goalie for the Force. In his time at Union: Shaw was a two-time Appalachian Athletic Conference First-Team member, two-time NAIA Defensive Player of the Week and three-time AAC Defensive Player of the week.
"It's really exciting to be coaching [Jonathan] Shaw again. He's made the semi-professional levels on two different occasions, but was plagued by injuries," Brock said. "He's played so well, he was named team captain. He is one of the mainstays on the pitch."
Coming off one of the best freshman seasons in school history in which he was named to the AAC Second-Team, Hitchman made the team out of camp and solidified himself as a starter in the Force lineup early in the season.
"He's had a great summer season. He has been playing out of position, as he is one of our starting centerbacks," Brock said. "I've seen a big development from him on the defensive side of his game."
Joining Hitchman as the only current Bulldog with the Force, Beilby has spent the season on the Force's practice squad while refining his game.
"I've loved his commitment from day one through the entire process," Brock said. "He has been growing and developing as player, because of playing against guys at this high of a level."
The Force are comprised of players from several NCAA Division I schools such as Memphis (Tenn.), Kentucky, Alabama-Birmingham and East Tennessee State. The rest of the Force are made up of players from various schools like Carson-Newman (Tenn.), Tusculum (Tenn.), Tennessee Wesleyan and Young Harris (Ga.).
Sending players to semi-professional and professional leagues has been the norm for the Bulldog program over the last decade.
In all, Union has sent 23 players to the NPSL, Premier Development League, United Soccer League, Canadian Soccer League, Professional Arena Soccer League and Major League Soccer. Only one Bulldog has signed an MLS contract, Derek Smith, was signed by the Columbus Crew in 2005.
Hitchman and Beilby have been playing against some of the best amateur soccer players on the east coast as they prep to return for their sophomore seasons.
"I am really proud of these guys for putting in the work this summer," Brock said. "They are definitely going to see it payoff this upcoming season."
The Force are owned by the Emerald Youth Foundation and play their home games at the Emerald Youth Sansom Sports Complex in Knoxville, Tenn.