Former Hazen star now roams Liberty sidelines

April 22, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

Sam Bunnell, Liberty High School’s new assistant soccer coach, is no stranger to the school’s turf field.

In fact, he’s played on it quite recently. He just wasn’t playing for the home team at the time.

Sam Bunnell

Sam Bunnell

Bunnell suited up for the rival Hazen Highlanders, where just last year he starred on a team that won the Seamount League championship and earned a state tournament berth.

Shortly after, the 2013 Hazen graduate earned a slew of postseason accolades anointing him as one of the best soccer players in the state.

“That was a fun team,” he said of the 2013 Highlanders. “Really, we just did it all for each other. We’re all really good friends and we treat each other like family. It was amazing to go out like that for everyone, not just me.”

A year later, he now roams the sideline of the “enemy” as an assistant with the Patriots, but despite some early razzing from former teammates, Bunnell said it’s been a smooth transition.

After graduation, Bunnell starred for a semester on the Southern Virginia University soccer team earlier this year, before returning home to Newcastle in anticipation of a two-year mission for his church.

He came back to look for work and earn money for his mission, which is how he found the Liberty opening. Hazen soccer coach Ken Matthews even served as one of his references for the opening.

“All my former Hazen teammates know I’m at Liberty now,” he said. “At first, I mean obviously there is a bit of joking around, but they’re all happy for me. Ken said he was glad I was doing it.”

Bunnell is the head coach of Liberty’s C-team and also offers extensive support to the varsity and junior varsity teams.

It’s harder, he said, standing on the sidelines, rather than suiting up and getting in on the action on the field.

“It’s tough to transition from the field to the bench, but it’s cool to be the mentor instead of the mentee,” he said. “I’m able to train these guys and groom these guys and help them develop into the players they’re going to be.”

He’s not the type of coach that is hard on his players and he doesn’t yell during games, Bunnell said, but he does make sure that he keeps his team moving during practice.

Bunnell models some of his teaching techniques after his former Hazen soccer coach, he said.

“One of the biggest things I’ve taken from Ken, and there have been a lot of things, but the main thing is his pregame warm-up, and the reason I took that was because we started a certain tradition last year with our warm-ups and we didn’t lose with them,” he said.

Prior to the first practice, Bunnell expected to catch some grief from his players because of his Hazen roots. It’s been nothing but smooth sailing, though, and the Liberty athletes treat him just like any other coach.

Liberty head coach Darren Tremblay said that so far, Bunnell fits right in with the staff and has been a great addition.

“Sam was the most qualified of the applicants,” he said. “He’s young, but he’s real mature for his age, and he’s a great player, we know that. He just loves the game.”

Bunnell plans to return to college after his mission, and continue his collegiate soccer career. In the meantime, he’s keeping his own skills sharp while playing for Inter United Football Club, a semi-professional team based in Tukwila.

“It’s been fun playing at a different kind of level,” he said of the experience. “The play is a little bit different than college and definitely a lot different than high school.”

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