Coach spotlight: Nick Stames
An inside look at assistant coach Nick Stames' career and influence at AU after 20 years.
Despite the responsibilities and pressures associated with goalkeeping in college soccer, generations of AU goalkeepers have responded with unrelenting preparation and calmness.
For the last two decades, men’s soccer assistant coach Nick Stames has worked tirelessly to cultivate this tranquil and composed atmosphere.
Over Stames’ 20-year tenure at AU, his mild-mannered and approachable attitude has helped a dozen goalkeepers advance to the highest levels of collegiate and professional soccer. AU head soccer coach Todd West praises Stames attitude and approach for fostering success for the goalies.
“He’s a steady, calm influence on our keepers, and he makes all of our goalkeepers better,” West said. “So we bring in some good guys, and Nick makes them better.”
Stames said he joined the staff after receiving an unexpected phone call from West about the job opening. He and West played together on the George Mason University soccer team during their collegiate years.
"It was twenty years ago, and I’m on vacation with my family in Rehoboth Beach, and I got a call from Todd West, who recently became the assistant at American under Bob Jenkins” Stames said. “He said our goalkeeper coach just left, and this is two weeks before preseason. He said 'are you able to come in and help out?'”
Since becoming the assistant coach in 1995, Stames has produced two Major League Soccer draft picks (Billy Knutsen, Michael Behonick), two Patriot League goalkeepers of the year (Knutsen, Thomas Myers), two all-Patriot League first team selections (Knutsen, Myers), and one Patriot League second team goalkeeper (Behonick). This season, Stames coached senior goalkeeper Dylan Hobert to a Patriot League third team finish as well as to All-Patriot League tournament honors.
Hobert attributes his mechanical and technical improvements to Stames.
“You come in as a freshman, and you think you're ready to start, but then you realize it’s a whole different ball game from club soccer to college,” Hobert said. “I think over the course of my freshman year I improved the most since I’ve been here, and I owe a lot of that to coach Stames.”
Knutsen, a 2014 draft pick for the San Jose Earthquakes also credits his success to Stames.
“I can confidently say that I would not have been able to play professionally without the guidance and coaching I received from coach Stames,” Knutsen said. “Over my four years at AU, he helped me develop the confidence and skills I needed to get an opportunity to play at the next level.”
In his day-to-day practices, Stames preaches footwork, ball handling, positioning and other fundamentals needed to stay mechanically sound. Beyond technique, Stames also motivates his goalkeepers to stay in the moment.
“He always told us play off your instincts,” Behonick, a retired professional soccer player and 2003 AU graduate, said. “[In training] he prepared us to know every situation we were going to potentially see in a game.”
Under Stames, the Eagles’ success in the net has helped the team advance to three NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2001. In 2004, when Thomas Myers was named inaugural Patriot League goalkeeper of the year, AU advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Myers also ranks 10th in the Patriot League record books for career goals against average with .97.
Since joining the Patriot League in 2001, the Eagles have won two Patriot League Championships and played in seven Patriot League Championship finals.
However, Stames’ impact goes beyond the field. Many of Stames’ athletes view him as a guiding light in their personal life as well as their athletic endeavors. Stames makes himself available to all his players seeking advice or guidance.
“He was both a coach to me and a father figure in terms of helping me grow up during a time where you’re going from a boy to a young man.” Behonick said.
Whether a goalkeeper is starting or sitting on the bench, Stames encourages all his players equally, according to Chris Sedlak, a 2007 graduate.
“I was immature at the time,” Sedlak said of his freshman year experience. “He really helped mentor me, to always keep my eye on the future, good things were coming. Even then as a backup goalkeeper, he put in a lot of extra time with me. He really helped me reach that next level of maturity.”
Stames, known for his warm and positive demeanor during games, hardly yells or shows any anger, according to several of his past goalies.
“Stames always has a positive attitude and outlook. This was extremely helpful, especially during the natural ups and downs of a long season,” Myers said “He was always calm and passive. In the rare occasion where he was upset, he would always manage to spin the negative energy into a positive outcome.”
Michael Gorsegner, a 2001 graduate and one of the first goalkeepers under Stames’ charge, remembers Stames warmly, particularly the coach’s ability to immediately deal with the self identified “odd bunch” of goalies at AU.
“I always appreciated his humor and easygoing attitude which would often soften a tense situation,” Gorsegner said. “Nick Stames is one of those guys who has only the best intentions when he works with the goalkeepers. He does it for the love of the game and the enjoyment of his players.”
When asked about all the goalies he has coached, Stames beams with pride and jokingly admits listing all the players would show his age. Still, he recalled every goalkeeper with fondness.
“There [have] been some very talented goalkeepers here. Some very athletic kids, and I think they did well here in their tenure here at American,” Stames said. “I’m really happy with what happened and happy for those guys.”