Chris Watkins is the men's soccer head coach and women's soccer assistant coach (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- It's a warm, sunny day and the weather is perfect for a soccer game. One man stands alone on BYU's South Stadium field envisioning what the evening's game will bring. As he walks across the field seemingly lost in thought, he enjoys the beauty of clean-cut lines and the smell of the freshly cut grass. It's a moment of complete peace.
Walking the field is a typical game day preparation for Chris Watkins, women's soccer assistant coach and men's soccer head coach. He took over the men's team in 1995 and joined the women's staff in 1996.
Juggling the two teams for the past decade has been intense, requiring many 14-hour days, but he wouldn't change a thing.
"I come home happy, everyday I come home happy," Watkins said. "I get to be around soccer all day. How can you beat that? I think I'm the luckiest guy in the world to have the job that I have."
Watkins' soccer story began long before he ever reached BYU, however.
"In my house we played soccer from day one," he said. "From the time I could walk, I was kicking a ball. It was always my passion."
It quickly become apparent that soccer was an appropriate passion for Watkins as the game came naturally to him. He excelled as a high school player in Kansas, leading his team to two state championships in 1986 and 1987. During his senior year he scored a hat trick in both the semi-final and final games of the state championships. He also led the league in scoring for two seasons, finding the net for 28 goals as a senior and ending his prep career with 74 goals.
His stellar play in high school attracted universities from across the nation. Watkins always planned on playing for BYU, but when the men's soccer team became a club sport, he started looking at other options. His top choice was the University of South Carolina, a top-five team, but he chose Drake University instead because it seemed a better fit for him.
Watkins played just one season for the Bulldogs, becoming an all-conference player and setting the single season scoring record, netting11 goals.
Despite his tremendous freshman campaign, Watkins' mother asked him to consider attending BYU instead. They reached an agreement where Watkins would spend fall semesters at Drake and winter semesters at BYU. After just one semester at BYU, however, Watkins decided to pursue his soccer career in Utah.
He played on BYU's struggling club team for one season and then decided to seek different venues. Watkins played for the semi-professional Salt Lake City Flamengo team from 1992-95, and then with the Utah Blitzz in 2002, scoring the winning goal in the Western Conference Finals.
While Watkins was in the midst of pursing his soccer career, he also started to get his feet wet in coaching. As a young 19-year-old he began coaching a group of 18-year-olds. He quickly realized his experience as a player was a great advantage as a coach because he understood what his players were feeling.
Watkins' life was quickly changing directions. Although he had always planned on a big-time soccer career, he suddenly found himself enjoying coaching.
"It was a good move," Watkins said. "I got into coaching and that was a really good opportunity for me to get involved in soccer a little bit deeper. It was a good move, although it wasn't exactly what I'd planned."
Since his arrival at BYU, Watkins has been an innovator within the soccer programs.
Seeking a more competitive environment, Watkins was the driving force behind moving the men's soccer team from club to semi-pro status in 2003. BYU purchased a Premier Development League franchise, becoming the first university sponsored soccer program to ever acquire a franchise that competes at a level considered higher than NCAA soccer.
He also took the initiative to encourage the US Men's National Team to practice on South Stadium. Watkins simply told the coaches about BYU's facilities, some of the best in the state, and the US team jumped at the opportunity.
It was an exciting chance for the men's team to see all the heavy hitters on the US National Team in action. Watkins believes that experience will be a motivator to his team as two players, Ken Ojuka and Aaron Gabbart, had the unique opportunity to play a game against the US team.
After 10 seasons with BYU soccer, Watkins understands the ins and outs of coaching men and women. Surprisingly enough, he says the differences are not as big as people make them out to be.
"The main difference is motivation," he said. "The men are motivated by each other, proving they are better than each other. They kind of relate to their primal instincts. For the women it's 'we.' They want to be part of a team that's better than the competition."
All and all, Watkins seems pleased with both teams. The men, who finished 8-7-1, just completed one of the best seasons in the program's history, considering the competition BYU faced. He expects the 2006 team to build on this year's success.
As for the women, Watkins is confident the 2005 team will surprise a lot of people, despite struggling through a 7-10-4 season in 2004.
"We have a lot of talent coming back, but we have to learn to win, learn to finish," Watkins said. "We have to develop players who feel confident in their ability to take over the game."
With Watkins on hand to lead the men and assist the women, both teams are in safe hands and should continue their winning ways.
When asked where he sees himself in 10 years, Watkins smiles, a smile of quiet confidence, and says he'll still be at BYU.
"I want to be here," he said. "I really appreciate what I have and I really feel responsible for the direction of both teams. In reality, I want to be the best. I want the women to win a national championship, and I also want the men to win the championship. Those goals are my driving force."