Bounce. The soft beat is careful and controlled, keeping pace with the steady rhythm in his head. He juggles the ball back and forth, the ease in this precision indicative of the hard work and practice that has focalized his soccer career.
Anthony Hamilton, a forward for the UCI men’s soccer team from 2003-2006, signed with the Rochester Rhinos of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) D-2 Pro League on February 16, 2010 for the upcoming season. Hamilton will go to New York after having just finished the 2009 season with the Ventura County Fusion (the current Premier Development League champions of 2009), his season ending with eight goals and three assists. Prior to the Fusion, Hamilton was drafted by Chivas USA as the 31st overall pick in the 2007 Supplemental Draft, playing for Chivas in 2007 and 2008.
Though his professional soccer career has been very exciting thus far, one of Hamilton’s biggest career highlights was while wearing a UCI jersey.
“Junior year was the best year we ever had,” Hamilton said. “I actually had a great week where I had back-to-back hat tricks.”
Hamilton’s demeanor is humble bordering on nonchalant, but this “great week” placed him as one of seven players in NCAA D-1 history to achieve such a feat. In addition, Hamilton finished his senior season as fifth all-time at UCI with a career of 23 goals and seven assists.
Hamilton’s early success, however, came with setbacks. Although he had a three-year contract with Chivas, Hamilton’s coaches decided that it would be better for him to not continue his third year because they were not able to guarantee him much playing time. After ending his contract a season early, Hamilton had plans to sign with the Portland Timbers of the United Soccer League.
“I was really excited about that,” Hamilton said. “Then all of a sudden they called me up, the day before I was going to go … I was all packed and ready, and they said, ‘Yeah, we ended up signing someone else.’”
Hamilton admits that the frustration of not getting enough playing time was tough.
“It was to be expected,” Hamilton said, thinking about his two seasons with Chivas. “[But] I want to be in [the game] and so every time I’m not, I’m going to be disappointed.”
Other hardships and setbacks occurred even before Hamilton played professionally.
“I had been used to being a star, whatever team I was on … then I came [to UCI] and I sat the bench for the first two years … it broke me.”
Despite his time as a professional athlete, the Colton High School graduate was back in Irvine for winter quarter, taking classes to finish up his degree in literary journalism. Hamilton had decided to take a break from school after he started trying out with different combines — the demands of transitioning to the soccer world did not work well with his schedule of 20 units.
“It was fun not having school and … all I needed to do was wake up and play soccer. But [going back to get my degree] was always hanging over my head,” Hamilton said.
However, Hamilton does not regret taking this break from school.
“I actually got more passionate about school after I left … when I was here, time dominated my life,” Hamilton said. “I never got to just enjoy being a student. [But after I left] I started reading a lot more and getting into the stuff that I liked.”
Throughout these setbacks and difficulties, Hamilton has turned to the people around him for support.
“They’re like father figures,” Hamilton said of his coaches, including current UCI head coach George Kuntz. “They believed in me, and saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”
Older, veteran teammates also provided a lot of support and advice for Hamilton.
“Ante Razov and Jesse Marsch were [my] mentors … I watched them playing with the Chicago Fire when I was a kid … just being with them was like being star-struck,” Hamilton said of his old teammates from Chivas USA. “I would always go to them for honest feedback.”
In addition to the close friends around him, Hamilton’s spirituality provided another source of motivation and support.
“My life on the soccer field always parallels my spiritual life somewhat,” Hamilton said. “I feel like God’s blessed me with my playing ability … the only way that I can show gratitude is just trying to be as excellent as I can.”
As a freshman, Hamilton was a declared economics major, but when he heard about the literary journalism program, he was intrigued. Although Hamilton does not have aspirations to become a journalist, he felt like the major could foster his love for creative writing.
“[Writing] was a way to just kind of filter thoughts … and I ended up really enjoying my classes,” Hamilton said. “[Journalism is] something that I feel like I can study and enjoy at the same time.”
Hamilton hopes to pursue teaching at a junior high after his soccer career is over, though he still wants to stay involved with soccer.
“I always get a kick out of coaching kids as a side-job,” Hamilton said. “I’ll always be involved with soccer in some capacity.”
But before all of that, Hamilton has to get to New York, where he has been promised prominent playing time. Hamilton has never lived on the east coast, but he will have at least some degree of familiarity as 2010 UCI senior forward Carlos Aguilar also signed with Rochester.
“The whole process is exciting,” Hamilton said. “[Being] with a group of guys that try to accomplish something together … being in a different place … it just seems like a big adventure.”
Hamilton will undoubtedly take everything that he has learned throughout his Southern Californian journey with him to the East Coast, reminding himself of the truths that he has found along the way.
“[The] biggest thing I think soccer has taught me is that you have to really put everything into every day … the training is more important than the actual event,” Hamilton said. “Don’t come putting style over substance; if you’re going to do it, do well at it.”
The ball moves back and forth, in time with his well-trained movements. Bounce. When it falls, he does not falter. The adjustment is made, his position reoriented, and the soft, subtle beat keeps going.