Walk-on athlete creates his own path
When Stephen Jinneman arrived at Western, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to play college soccer.
It is a big commitment, after all, and he hadn’t been recruited by the coaches like the rest of the team.
Now, as a junior, Jinneman is a starter on the men’s varsity team, ranking sixth in points, fourth in assists and tied for first in game-winning goals.
Jinneman is a walk-on player, who had to try out to make the team. He’s the only one on both men’s and women’s soccer teams that’s earned his spot through a walk-on tryout, rather than recruitment.
“I didn’t have the exposure that you get on the premier teams like a lot of the kids I play with now, so I was always one step behind,” Jinneman said. “When I came here, I really realized I wanted to play on the team and just worked hard.”
Jinneman started playing soccer when he was three, and continued through childhood. In high school, he opted to play for his area’s select soccer team, a tier below the premier team, so he could continue to play for the school as well.
When Jinneman was a freshman, he introduced himself to head coach Greg Brisbon after a game and told him how much he missed the sport. Brisbon agreed to let him come out to one of the practices and tryout.
“He kept his perseverance,” Brisbon said. “His athleticism is a big thing and I think today that’s one of his strengths. We were in need of a left back as well, at the time, so I thought ‘Alright, if he trains hard and works hard, then I think there’s a chance he could be our left back in the future.’”
After a few more practices, Brisbon told Jinneman that he could stay on through the winter and spring, as a sort of extended tryout. Jinneman had to push himself to stand out in an environment where he was surrounded by trained, seasoned athletes.
“I never felt like I was truly part of the team, even though I was in a lot of minutes in practice,” Jinneman said. “So every time we would run, every time we would play a game, I would just have to work as hard as I could to try to be at the front of the pack.In everything.”
When spring of 2016 came around, Brisbon offered Jinneman a permanent spot.
“It was a great, great feeling going into Greg’s office and discovering I was on the team,” Jinneman said. “I was very fortunate to be able to fall into a position. I had never played defense before coming to Western, and the left back spot was open, I just took the opportunity to step into that role.”
Now, Jinneman’s role on the team is a vital one, senior team captain Luke Olney said.
“He’s really grown into kind of a leader for us. When things aren’t going well, he’s working to step up either his words or his actions, or his play to propel the team forward,” Olney said.
Brisbon gives tryouts to all Western students that feel like they’re ready to play college soccer.
“It’s a good opportunity for kids that we may have missed, or kids that think they don’t want to play college soccer their freshman year, but they get here in the fall and realize ‘God I really miss it,’ and so I give those kids a chance as well,” Brisbon said.
Brisbon welcomes students to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org if they’re interested in trying out for the next round of walk-on tryouts in January.