Soccer family pushes on without mom
When the Dublin Coffman and Jerome high school boys soccer teams play today (Thursday, Sept. 11) at Coffman, there will be a little more on the line for brothers R.J. and Hunter Naylor.
R.J. Naylor is a senior at Coffman and Hunter is a sophomore at Jerome. They and their younger brother, Evan, are part of a close-knit family off the field.
It's been a tumultuous year for the boys and their father, Robert. The boys' mother, Laurie, died of breast cancer in June 2007.
"She meant a lot," R.J. said. "She really didn't care for soccer, but she cared to watch us play because she wanted us to be happy (in) whatever we did. That's all she wanted. She wanted us to be happy."
After being hampered with knee and ankle injuries his first three years of high school, R.J. has emerged as one of the key players for Coffman. He played mainly at the junior varsity level the past two seasons.
"I finally got the looks that I needed," R.J. said of his opportunity to play at the varsity level. "I finally got the breaks I needed. Everything started to fall into place for me. I just felt like I needed a little push, a little thing to fall my way for me to get that opportunity."
Earlier this year, R.J. helped the Worthington United under-17 team win a state title.
He feels the continued spiritual support of his mother has helped his progression in the sport.
"I feel like she is still overlooking me because I didn't think I was going to get the break I would need to start on varsity," he said. "I didn't think I was going to obtain that, but I got the lucky breaks and I think she has played a role in that."
R.J. credits first-year coach Marc D'Auteuil for his development.
"It seems like R.J. is a pretty mature, level-headed kid, and for what he's been through for a kid at his age and how he is it's just a testament for what type of kid he is," D'Auteuil said. "We have a lot of great kids on this team and he fits right in with them."
R.J. also has a 4.08 grade point average. He hopes to continue his education at American, Wake Forest or Georgetown universities, majoring in political science.
When Coffman and Jerome play, it will be the first time the Naylor brothers have had the chance to compete against each other at the varsity level. R.J. attended Coffman to remain with close friends heading into high school. Hunter, who also plays basketball, opted to remain at Jerome.
"Hunter is a freak of an athlete," R.J. said. "He has a lot of potential -- a lot more potential than I ever had."
R.J. and Hunter each vow that once the game ends they will become best friends again.
"I've played club soccer against him," R.J. said. "We always go after it pretty hard. We're pretty competitive with each other because we do not like to lose to each other. Whenever the ball comes near us and we happen to be in the same place it's going to be a battle no matter what. It's not dirty, but we're not going to let each other get the better of us."
Hunter has come off the bench to provide solid contributions for the Celtics. He also has received moral support from his teammates and coaching staff, including coach Nate Maust.
"He has a good family, a great dad," Maust said. "Mentally, he has been able to overcome some stuff. I'm sure his family dynamics have changed quite a bit since the loss of his mom, but I think they're definitely rising to the challenge."
"I'm very proud of them," Robert Naylor said. "They have had to assume a lot of responsibility. They have had to help out with their younger brother and also have had to deal with the loss of a great mom. She was a kids' mom. She just loved kids.
"Their friends were always around, so that has been a very difficult adjustment, but they have really forged on and I think they know that's what their mother would have wanted them to do. They understand the loss and they understand how important it is to move on and do what she would have wanted them to have done."