RUSSELLVILLE — You could call Jared Fuller an accidental coach, but his Russellville Cyclones’ soccer success is anything but accidental.
Fuller, 33 and a former University of Central Arkansas soccer player, had planned on becoming an athletic trainer. Love, though, intervened; and he wound up teaching and coaching soccer in Russellville. In his 10-year tenure, he has led the Cyclones to the state finals in four of the past five seasons, winning the school’s only soccer championships in 2012 and ’14.
“Coach Fuller has established Russellville as one of the top programs in the state for boys soccer,” Cyclone Athletic Director Johnny Johnson said. “We are extremely proud of this team and him and their accomplishments.”
Fuller has put his stamp on the Russellville program.
“The first five years we were about .500; every year we had more wins than losses, but we were losing in the first round of the playoffs,” he said. “It takes a while to develop your style of soccer. I had to get in with the parents and club teams in the area. I’ve gotten with the [Arkansas Valley Soccer Association], and it’s grown every year.”
In Fuller’s early years with the Cyclones, they played in the state’s highest classification as one of its smaller schools. Now they play their regular season in the 7A/6A against Conway, Fort Smith Northside, Fort Smith Southside and Little Rock Catholic (all Class 7A) and Greenwood (Class 6A), but they drop down to all 6A competition for the postseason.
“It’s hard to compete against the Conways and Bentonvilles and Rogerses since they’ve all grown so much,” Fuller said. “But it helps that we play Conway twice and Catholic twice. We definitely peak at the end of the season.”
The Cyclones finished the regular season as the third seed from the 7A/6A East. While hosting the Class 6A State Tournament, they beat Little Rock Fair in the first round, 8-1; El Dorado, second seed from the South, in the quarterfinals, 5-0; and Mountain Home, fifth from the East, in the semifinals, 2-1. In the championship game at the University of Arkansas’s Razorback Field, they beat Greenwood, second from the East, 1-0 in overtime.
Russellville’s Landon Short scored the winning goal with 3:35 left in overtime.
“It gets harder as you go,” Fuller said. “There’s definitely a difference between the top six schools (in Class 6A) and the rest. Almost all (Class) 7A schools we play are very competitive.”
Originally, he landed in Russellville thanks to his marriage to Jennifer Goodman, who grew up there and whose brother, Ian, played goalkeeper on the UCA teams that went deep in the Division II playoffs. His father-in-law, Dr. Robin Goodman, still coaches goalkeepers for Fuller.
Ian Goodman had helped the Cyclones to their previous best soccer finish, state runner-up.
Fuller had the pedigree to take the program further, having played as a junior on the North Little Rock team that finished 19-0 and won the 1998 state championship.
“You can’t ever stop,” he said. “You can’t ever be satisfied.”
He said he was “definitely going to miss” two seniors — forward Jose Crisostomo and center-midfielder Miguel Nava.
“They’re the kind of kids who wanted to be touching the soccer ball all the time,” Fuller said. “They were calling me on Sunday afternoons wanting me to open up when it was raining. I hope we’ll have another group like them getting everybody together all the time. That’s how you get better.”
Fuller will return the core of his team in hopes of the Cyclones’ first successful title defense in 2015: juniors Short, a utility player; Taylor Allen, forward; Miguel Lozano, midfielder; and Braden Bennett, center back; and sophomores Saul Sierra, goalkeeper, and William Crisostomo, center back.
“They all played a role,” he said. “It’s a definite possibility we can defend, but it will be all about the [rising] seniors bringing in the younger guys. They have to step up and be senior leaders like those did.
“If they can get the younger guys coming up to do that, we can do it. We have the talent. We just have to fill a couple of holes of people leaving.”
Fuller spent his first five years at RHS also working as the athletic trainer for the Dover football program, but with twin sons Keegan and Gidian, now 6, and Aiden, 19 months, the time commitment became too much.
His teaching assignment has also changed. Originally he taught biology; now he’s in the biomedical sciences program, which keeps him in touch with that athletic-trainer dream.
Sounds like the accidental coach has turned out to have a pretty wonderful life.