By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — Liam Rickman’s first varsity soccer action didn’t go as well as he had planned. Four times, the freshman turned and saw the ball in the back of the net — in just one half in a match against Glynn Academy.
Doubts began kicking in the back of his mind as well.
“I thought, ‘OK, what does that mean?’ ” said Rickman, now a seasoned veteran goalie as a junior for South Effingham. “I knew I played well (during practice). Now I had to play better in games.”
Believe it or not, high school spring sports are already getting underway. Rickman and the Mustangs open their soccer season on Friday in Pembroke against Bryan County.
ECHS soccer team already kicked off its season with a 10-0 win over Bryan County on Jan. 29.
For Rickman, the spring is a busy time, but a fun time. He pulls double duty as a placekicker on the Mustangs football team and must keep up with football’s weightlifting regiment.
He said during the spring, he’ll concentrate on soccer during the weekdays. On the weekends, he’ll switch to football.
“I don’t think I’ll ever pick one sport over the other,” Rickman said. “I’ll always be both. Being in that stadium two seasons of the year is pretty nice. I’ve been playing soccer since I was little. Football kicking came a little later.”
Ironically, football placekicking and soccer goaltending had a precedent at South Effingham. Anthony Beck, now a punter at Georgia Southern University, punted and played goalie for the Mustangs the year before Rickman entered high school.
“It’s weird, he stepped out and I stepped in,” Rickman said.
Rickman stepped onto the football field as an offensive and defensive lineman, but soon used his soccer talents to help the football team.
He didn’t miss a kick inside 44 yards and was a weapon on kickoffs, placing about 80 percent of his kickoffs in the endzone, while earning second-team All-Region 2-AAAAAA football honors this season.
Now there’s another kind of football in Rickman’s mind. He followed the initial rough outing against Glynn with a stronger showing, albeit a 1-0 loss to Ware County.
“It was a good learning point,” Rickman said. “I saw soccer was truly a team effort. No one was mad. I gave up a goal, but they were madder at themselves because they didn’t score.”
With Rickman in goal, the Mustangs turned things around in a hurry in 2019. They won eight straight matches to win their third straight region championship and advanced to the state playoffs.
Last year, SEHS was 5-1-1, 2-0 in region play, before concerns of the spread of COVID-19 closed down spring sports.
“It was tough not to play with those boys and see if we could win another region title,” Rickman said. “Those were the boys who were eighth graders who helped me along when I was coming in (to middle school) as a sixth grader and they were juniors when I was coming in (to high school) as a freshman. It’s really been middle school and up that we’ve been all playing together.”
This season, the Mustangs have a new coach, but Rickman returns with his team-first attitude.
“Liam was one of the first players who reached out to me when I got the job,” said SEHS coach DaKota Paradice, who also coached the kickers in football. “He told me how hungry he was to put work in. He’s emotionally driven and loves everyone. He wants (success) more for the team than himself.
“At the end of the day, if I had to tell him who his biggest competitor is, I’d tell him it’s himself.”