College soccer coaches convene in Hattiesburg for team camp

By CAMAL PETRO,

This part of the country is known as an untapped well for the recruitment of high school boy’s soccer players. There are just not many opportunities to go around. Along with the Mississippi junior college system, which is a quality league, there are only Division II, Division III and NAIA opportunities in the Magnolia State.

Memphis and UAB are two of the closer Division I schools to have a men’s soccer program, while all 14 SEC schools and Southern Miss have women’s programs, which is due to the Title IX rule where colleges must have equal opportunities to participate in athletics.

That hurts boy’s soccer players, though, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s head coach Justin Maullin, who played at William Carey, is trying to stir up the pot in local recruiting.

“Being a Division I college coach and understanding this area, there are players here, but they have nowhere to go,” Maullin said.

Maullin, along with his assistants and other four-year college soccer coaches from the Carolinas and around the area, has held the Mississippi High School Team and Elite Camp in Hattiesburg for four years. It keeps getting bigger, too.

“Once one team has a good experience, they go back to their community and now all of the sudden we have six teams from the Baton Rouge area,” Maullin said. “It takes one year to get them in here to see how we run it, the professionalism, the coaching, the food and the whole nine yards. They just go back to their area and all of the sudden we have two or three more.”

Southern Miss is the home for the five-day camp, and teams from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi take part in the experience. Unfortunately, the participation from Mississippi teams, even though the camp is in its backyard, is severely low.

“It’s disappointing,” Maullin said. “This is a camp in Mississippi with three teams. That’s it. Everything else is Louisiana or Alabama, so we’re actually thinking about changing that location. It talks to the commitment level of the coach. There are some high school coaches who can’t be bothered to do anything in the summer, which is sad.”

Sacred Heart is one of the three Mississippi teams attending, as well as Ocean Springs and Florence. For Crusaders’ head coach Joe Falla Jr., the camp provides a lot of benefits for his club, which played for a state championship in 2018.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for these young kids to get in front of these college coaches, especially the ones who are wanting to play at the next level,” Falla said. “I think it’s a perfect opportunity to showcase their talents.

“When the college coaches come in, they reiterate that it’s the same game, but it’s a different voice. I think by making that statement, it eases a lot of their minds, it calms their butterflies and it allows the kids to just be free and play.”

Coaches from UNCG, Winthrop University, West Alabama, Delta State and LSU-Eunice were present during Sacred Heart's training Friday morning. 

A 2017 inductee of the William Carey Hall of Fame, Maullin played for WCU when the soccer program was located at the Gulfport campus. He was a part of a team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation and made three semifinal appearances before accomplishing the same feat as an assistant coach.

He’s been the UNC-Greensboro coach for eight years and his team won the Southern Conference regular-season championship with an 11-5-5 overall record in 2015.

About the camp

The Carolina Soccer Camp started at William Carey four years ago but moved to Southern Miss after two years. Only four teams and 60 players attended the inaugural camp, and now it’s up to 18 teams and 250 players.

Maullin believes the camp could have up to 400 players next year.

The model was to hold the camp in Hattiesburg and bring in college coaches to make the high school teams better and give the players quality exposure. Starting on Tuesday, a schedule lays out training, scrimmages, an all-star game and a tournament to cap off the week.

Maullin credits Southern Miss women’s soccer coach Mohammed El-Zare for his help to bring the camp to Southern Miss, as well as helping with logistics.