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Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Wetumpka goalkeeper Zach Grindle goes to ground to stop an attack from Russell County.

When coach Desmond Knight took over the Wetumpka boys soccer varsity team, he knew he had some special talent coming up the ranks. He started coaching JV when the five members of the Class of 2020 were just freshmen.

Meanwhile, the varsity team finished its season five games below .500 and without a section win. Knight moved to the helm of the program and within two years, he had all five of those players with him on varsity to help Wetumpka turn things around.

“This was the class of soccer student-athletes,” Knight said. “They started the culture here of winning and getting better. They have raised expectations. Even with the short season, they got that job done.”

Over three seasons, the senior class racked up 17 wins and never finished with a losing record. Brennan Worrell scored and assisted on goals in the final game of the season, which was a 7-2 win over Jeff Davis, to help Wetumpka finish 2020 with a 3-3-2 record.

Worrell ran the midfield for three years, often playing in a more defensive role. During the offseason, Worrell ran cross country and indoor track, which helped him stay in shape. That showed as he played nearly every minute across his three seasons.

“He brought a lot of stability and continuity,” Knight said. “He was helping me out and was my go-to guy. I believe in having a player-led team and Brennan was very instrumental in that part.”

Zach Grindle was the only other senior to spend three years at the varsity level. He made the move from the back line to goalkeeper and Wetumpka benefited from it. Grindle started his final two seasons in goal and recorded five clean sheets.

“We were fortunate enough to have enough coaches to have one specifically for the keepers but you always felt comfortable enough with Zach to send him with a ball bag and maybe one other player and he would go to work,” Knight said. “It was big to have a guy like that. There was not a better kind.”

Jon Tessier was with the program for four years but he spent only the final two on varsity. He played in several different positions across the pitch but grew into his biggest role as a leader by the time he was a senior.

“He has definitely gotten better over the course of those four years,” Knight said. “He gave so much to our team. He got the players to stay focused. Whenever guys got frustrated with each other, he would be the voice of reason. He had the calming effect on the team.”

Leo Castellanos started a majority of his matches at right back, playing in every game over his two seasons with the team. Knight said Castellanos was not very vocal but he managed to lead by example and several players looked at his mentality on and off the field.

“The biggest thing Leo brought was toughness,” Knight said. “There were a lot of days before we practiced, he would be working in the (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program. He would run several miles before going to practice. He’s played through a lot of nagging injuries and his teammates have seen him tough it out. He gave everything he had for his team.”

That attitude rubbed off on the rest of the squad, especially some of the bench players who continued to work hard even if they weren’t getting much playing time. 

John Duong played more in his senior season than any other year but he was still considered a reserve. Knight said when Duong got in the game, the rest of the team was encouraging him and that showed what he meant to team as a whole.

“He was a late bloomer as far as his skills but he was always a great teammate,” Knight said. “He definitely improved and we felt more comfortable throwing him into some spots but his biggest thing was always a positive attitude.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.