Even as a player, Griff Fowler knew one day that he wanted to coach Thomas Dale High School soccer.
After all, he grew up with it. He was a ball boy at 6, watched his dad, Mark, successfully navigate the school to back-to-back state championships in 2005 and 2006 and appear in the state tournament six times in eight seasons. Fowler was a captain for two teams that made state competition.
Now in his third season coaching Thomas Dale, he has the team set to begin a playoff run with a sparkling 14-1-1 mark, fresh off the school’s first ever defeat of Cosby. It appears that Thomas Dale soccer is back, and now, he’ll get to make his own playoff run as a No. 1 seed starting this Thursday.
“Thomas Dale is in our blood,” Mark said of his son. “I’m proud of him in everything he’s done. He’s become a great man.”
The beginnings of Griff’s success in coaching are rooted deep. The Fowlers hail from Wales in the soccer-crazed United Kingdom.
“We are a soccer family,” Griff said. “It was soccer or rugby, and rugby is limited here. We traveled up and down the coast to get to games, and played club soccer for the Richmond Kickers. If we weren’t playing or practicing, we were kicking a ball for fun or we were watching the (English) Premier League,” he said. “We grew up in a great area with lots of kids. We’d play with those kids. We were a ‘soccer mad’ family.”
But to his father, it was apparent that Griff, short for Griffydd, had an elite understanding of the game. Mark remembers watching games and discussing what teams did correctly or incorrectly. By age 7 or 8, in his dad’s estimation, Griff was able to break down soccer games, knew what teams needed to do, and was a walking encyclopedia of soccer knowledge and statistics.
“He’d go to coaching clinics with me when he was young,” Mark said. “He was a sponge. He absorbed soccer knowledge, he knew stats, offenses, defenses, and before long, he was telling me what a team did or didn’t do correctly.”
“It’s amazing to watch,” Mark said. “I see the game as I’ve always seen it, and sometimes, I’ll be watching and have a thought about what I’d do, and sure enough, he’ll make that adjustment.”
Winning though, took a while. Griff inherited a young team three seasons ago, one that only managed five wins. The next season, the Knights won 11 games, and now this year, they appear to be on their way.
“He’s obviously proven that … he has the knowledge, but he can convey that knowledge,” Mark said. “He’s got the right personality, and he relates well to the kids.”
“We have a strong group of young men who have grown together,” Griff said. “Most of our players have been together for three or four years, and many were here and remember was it was like to struggle.”
Griff knew that his team was poised for a good start when they played Deep Run, a perennial threat for the state championship, and did well in a scrimmage.
“Of course, you take the results of a scrimmage with a grain of salt,” he said. “But I thought we were able to challenge one of the best programs in the area in the right areas. The kids had a lot of confidence that they didn’t have before.”
The Knights have a strong attack led by senior Brayan Cedillo, a team captain who’s netted 22 goals. He’s led the team in goals for the past two seasons.
Center back Garrett Graves, who is committed to play football at Bridgewater College, has done his part by scoring 13 goals, but perhaps more importantly, has formed a great defensive combination with a third senior, Konstantine Sannikov, in anchoring the Knights’ defense. Sannikov excels in playing balls from the air, and Graves’ knowledge of the game is his biggest asset, Griff said.
Also on the attack is junior Hawkins Adcock, who’s scored five goals and made 11 assists.
Junior Carlos Padilla has been essential to helping connect everything together in the middle of the field. He was a transfer who, in the words of Griff, “slotted” seamlessly into the team.
Two freshmen have made major contributions as well: Timothy Vickeries and Joseph Ennas. Vickeries has manned a midfield position, and Ennas has defended.
“They not only earned themselves starting positions but have been key performers for us this season,” Griff said of the freshmen.
Vickeries is a great tackler with a competitive nature, and Ennas has come in and filled the defensive role of his brother Jeremy (who graduated), Griff said. “Both boys deserve credit for their maturity,” he added.
Senior goalkeeper Jason Rodriguez has made the most of an opportunity to start after playing as backup as a junior. With 11 shutouts this season, he’s kept scorers at bay when they have gotten past a strong defense.
“This team is bonded and close,” Griff said. “They’ve come up together and developed together. They’re excited for the opportunity they’ve earned.”
The Knights’ playoff run starts with a regional playoff game at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 23, at home against No. 8 seed Franklin County.