Monday, June 2, 2008

King Of H-Town

Hastings’ Downs Ready For The Next Level
By Zach Smart

Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.--Look Taylor Downs square in the eye and ask him what he would sacrifice for soccer. You’ll likely find that there isn’t much that he wouldn’t. The game of soccer has taken Downs well beyond his Hastings roots.
Downs, who recently wrapped up a storied four-year career at Amherst College, where he established himself as an NCAA Division-III All-American, will be using his expedition to South Africa as a launching pad to success on more than one front.
The wiry 6-foot-4 forward was recently tapped into Grassroots Soccer, a prestigious program which shoulders the high-order commitment to “Using The Power Of Soccer In The Fight Against AIDS.”
The non-profit organization was kick-started by Tommy Clark, the former professional from Zimbabwe.
With Grassroots, Clark has implemented a considerable tool for community engagement. According to Clark, a pediatrician who starred at Dartmouth College, Grassroots Soccer “provides African youth with the knowledge, life skills, and support to live HIV-free.”
Downs, the alpha dog of the Lord Jeffs’ offense his senior year, carved up the New England Christian School Athletic Conference to the tune of seven goals, four assists, and 18 points in 18 games played. The ultra-athletic Downs, who received his degree from the liberal arts school in May, said he would like to the prolong his soccer career. First and foremost, however, he would like to do his part in helping raise AIDS awareness throughout South Africa and pave the path for a more promising future.
Many of the players involved in Grassroots have used the organzation's close contacts to their advantage, weighing their pro stock and traveling throughout the continent to pursue a professional career. Nick Gelacio, the former Middlebury star who now plays pro in South Africa, is a prime example.
“Grassroots has developed this curriculum that has become really successful,” explained Downs, a religion major who often practices Zen and meditation as a recipe for success.
“It integrates professional players and coaches and teachers, and it’s all centered around soccer. We’re going to head over there and some of us will be based in Cape Town, South Africa, doing actual first-hand training. Some of us will be going to different places all over the continent to teach the coaches how to teach about HIV prevention. They probably have over 15 locations.”
The whole charade of traveling to a different country, acclimating himself to a new landscape while coaching and evaluating talent is nothing new for Downs.
The 22-year-old studied Tibetan Buddhism in India his junior year, and has coached soccer throughout Westchester County since the age of 13. At 13, he was a callow eighth grader who landed himself a spot on Josh Blum’s Varsity. He's made soccer a workaday, year-around commitment in his life ever since.
Now he’s on the verge of earning a salary to play.
“In the past, NECSAC players have had pretty decent success playing pro in South Africa,” said Downs.
“Apparently, Grassroot soccer will put us in contact with an agent over there. When we get over there, they give you tryouts for different clubs. You find something that kind of meets your ability level. I don’t actually know where I’m going to end up playing. I know when I get over there, they’ll sort of set me up with an agent and I’ll see where I’m going to end up.
Downs said that with increasing numbers of Grassroot soccer personnel evolving into pro players, the program has a better chance of registering its imprint in the outside world.
The idea is more connections, and Grassroots is looking to spread like wildfire. Downs said that one of Grassroots' chief goals is to enhance their image in a country that broke free from the apartheid system in 1994.
At Hastings, Downs’ offensive pace placed him amongst New York state’s premier players. He was an All-State selection and garnered Academic All-American accolades his senior year.
He wants to make the world a safer place for children and is ready for the challenge.
At times, Downs said he reflects on aspects of his well-traveled soccer career. The different coaches, players, personalities, nationalities, the wins, the losses, injuries and triumphs. He said it's been somewhat of a journey that's allowed him to assimilate cultural mores, traditions, and differences.
At this point, Downs said, it feels like he’s entering a new era on the pitch.