Have you ever wondered if one game makes a difference? If the action that happens in 90 minutes really matters? For redshirt senior Everett Pitts, the 90 minutes he spent in Anteater Stadium just five years ago made all the difference.
As a senior at Ayala High School in Chino Hills, California, recruiters pursued Pitts for his domineering style of play. Encouraged by parents that stressed the importance of academics, UC Irvine seemed like the perfect fit for a future in both soccer and education. While Pitts debated as to which college to attend in the fall, the right-footed defender attended a men’s soccer game featuring each of the schools he was seriously considering.
The game that stood out? UCI versus Santa Barbara.
On Halloween night in 2007 Pitts sat in the concrete stands of Anteater Stadium with his father, who was a former attacking midfielder and forward for the men’s soccer team at Cal Poly Pomona, to watch the ‘Eaters play on the field that he might one day have the opportunity to call home.
“I saw a good program, and a rising program,” Pitts said. “I saw the players [UCI] had, especially the younger players, and I thought it would be the best option for me.”
After having just watched Loyola Marymount University take on Santa Clara, Pitts knew he had found something special in UCI.
“I think we tied 1-1 [in the Santa Barbara game], but I just remember it being a battle. I loved that atmosphere, and that intensity of the game,” Pitts said.
Ninety minutes after a whistle signaled the beginning of the action, Pitts knew he belonged with the ‘Eaters.
Fast forward four years to a match between the very same teams that helped Pitts solidify his decision, and this time we find 105 minutes of intensity that Pitts describes as feeling on top of the world.
On November 12, 2011 the ‘Eaters battled the Santa Barbara Gauchos with the Big West title on the line. In the second round of overtime, Irvine fought its way to find the net, and sent the Gauchos home empty handed. This marked the third Big West Title for the ‘Eaters in the last four years.
Reflecting on the win over UCI’s biggest rival, Pitts revealed, “I felt like I had everything I wanted at that point. I had the automatic tournament bid and we knew we were probably going to get a bye the first week because our RPI was so high. It was a really good feeling. Like you were on top of the world.”
The match against Santa Barbara reminds Pitts of why his heart belongs to a game he started playing when he was just four years old.
“I love how the sport is for anyone,” Pitts said. “You can be big and tall like me, and better at the physical aspect of the game. Or you can be someone that’s smaller, and maybe not as athletic but more skillful. I love playing it for that reason. It brings so many different types of people together which is awesome.”
With a talent for bringing people together and as UCI’s men’s soccer lone senior and captain, Pitts will stand alongside his parents on Senior Night in celebration of his accomplishments at UCI and of his parents’ unwavering support.
While it will be an uncommon sight for a program that typically recognizes a group of graduating seniors to see just one player and his family at the midfield on Senior Night, for a General, one often stands respectfully alone at the top.
Ever since a game against the Air Force in a previous season when Pitts’ no surrender mentality inspired coach Kuntz to call his defender the “General,” the nickname stuck. Who better to have as captain than the General?
When asked about his leadership responsibilities, the humble international studies major reveals that although he might be the only senior, he is never alone when it comes to demonstrating what is expected of the team.
“We have 14 new guys that came in, so they need someone to look up to and to know what’s right and what’s wrong,” Pitts said. “What they’re supposed to do at practice, what they’re not supposed to do at practice. I’ve definitely had help. Enrique Cardenas and Jake Marcon are redshirt juniors, so they’ve been here awhile too.”
As a culmination of Pitts’ exemplary character and level of competition, as well as his dedication to the community and to the classroom, Pitts has been nominated for the national Lowe’s Senior CLASS award, which is an acronym for “Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School” that recognizes NCAA Division 1 seniors who excel in four categories: character, competition, community and classroom.
When it comes to the community, Pitts’ demonstrates his passion for helping people through his love for soccer by participating in Soccer for Hope, a soccer camp for west coast fútbol clubs in which the proceeds go to children with cancer, and also in soccer clinics for AYSO coaches.
Revealing that some of the youth soccer league coaches are volunteers without any prior experience with the sport, Pitts loves having the opportunity to share his knowledge and talent with the people who teach the game to the next generation.
While he teaches the game itself, his learning on the field never ceases to stop. In the same fashion, Pitts excels in the classroom and continues to value his education.
Pitts names lecturer Jeff Johnston, or “JJ,” who taught Ethics and Education, as one of the most inspiring professors he has had to date.
“He made you want to do work just so you could be involved in the class and in class discussions,” said Pitts.
Demonstrating of his steadfast attitude, Pitts has always understood that every minute counts. Whether it be the 50 minutes of a lecture, the minutes spent honing his skills in a game he hopes to play professionally, or the 90 minutes he gets to spend “setting his mind free” by playing a game he fiercely loves, every minute counts.
“Soccer is everything,” Pitts said. “I watch soccer, I play soccer. I play FIFA the video game soccer. Me and my teammates, all we talk about is soccer. Soccer is every part of my life.”
“I always tell my parents that whenever I’m thinking of something bad, or I’m having a bad day, going and playing soccer relieves me of all of that stress. Playing for that, especially with guys that you want to do well for, you want to work hard for, brings the team a lot closer to you.”
So do the 90 minutes spent battling to put a ball in a net really matter? Can they really make a difference? For the General, they absolutely can, and they do.
Those 90 minutes have been his vehicle to giving back to the community and are an inspiration when it comes to buckling down to study so that he continues to have the opportunity to lace up and take the field. They have taught Pitts to value hard work, loyalty and dedication. They have, as Pitts says, “made me mature,” and have turned the once juvenile 18-year-old into the player and person that he is today. The one that will stand as captain and as a Lowe’s Senior CLASS award nominee on Senior night before he plays his final 90 minutes in Anteater Stadium.