Freshman Tyler Rathbun lounged in front of his TV mashing the buttons on his Xbox controller. He glanced up at the clock and it read 10:30 p.m. He needed to go look at his tryouts. He had to see which team he made, after a full week of soccer tryouts.
When Rathbun clicked on East’s soccer coach Jamie Kelly’s roster, he didn’t know what to say. Freshman aren’t supposed to make varsity, he thought.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Rathbun said. “My family was so excited and people on varsity kept calling in and congratulating me. It was the most exciting moment of my life.”
The rest of the night was filled with phone calls from friends, bright smiles from his family and the thrill of knowing he would be practicing with varsity in the morning. The varsity even tee-peed him that night. He didn’t mind.
Rathbun’s soccer career started when he was only three-years-old. His brother, East graduate Alex Rathbun, took him into their backyard, where two towering soccer goals stood. Alex, who was eight-years-old, needed a goalie to fire shots at. He picked his little brother to be his victim.
“Alex would just make me play,” Rathbun said. “I couldn’t say no to him.”
Rathbun was not a fan of being pelted with shot after shot, and that’s when he decided he wanted to be the guy who was dishing out the punishment. Alex couldn’t blame him. He decided to teach his little brother the game. They would practice almost everyday, and Rathbun still shoots into those two goals in the offseason, remembering that this was the place his love for soccer started.
He would move up from backyard ball to a recreational team with oranges at every game, and at nine years old joined a premier team, the KC Strikers. The Strikers were Rathbun’s first club team and with them he learned how to play as a solid squad. It was those simple days of playing at Mission Valley and having a team dinner after a big win, where Rathbun learned how to be part of a team. One of his teammates, Scott Slapper, is a manager for the varsity team.
“I knew he would make varsity because he focuses on the team,” Slapper said.
East’s varsity soccer coach, Jamie Kelly, was also the coach of the KC Strikers when Rathbun joined the team.
“Even way back then I knew he was talented and stood above the rest,” Kelly said. “I knew that if he stuck with it and worked hard he would make an impact wherever he went to high school.”
In tryouts, Rathbun started with all of the other freshmen, and they ran for most of the first day. But when they scrimmaged, that’s when Rathbun took his advantage. He dominated his fellow freshman with his speed as he weaved through defenders, swung his foot back, and hooked the ball perfectly past the stunned goalie. The next day he was trying out with the JV and the varsity.
“That’s when I thought I might make JV,” Rathbun said. “But making varsity never crossed my mind,” Rathbun said.
Rathbun was intimidated his first day of practice on the varsity team. He didn’t know what to expect. He was practicing with guys who knew what practice was like, and he was the freshman that had no idea what was coming. He wondered how difficult varsity would be and he questioned if he was really varsity material.
“I had been to the workouts over the summer,” Rathbun said. “I had made it through tryouts, and I thought that I was in great condition, but I still didn’t know what varsity would be like.”
At practice the team went over some basic plays before going to First Watch. Rathbun sat down with his new team mates all around him, already poking fun and calling him the “frosh.” He looked at his waffles and grinned.
Senior varsity captain Joe Craig has played forward for the varsity team for three years.
“This year I thought there was a good chance that a freshman could make varsity,” Craig said. “And I always thought that Tyler would be that freshman. I had seen his skills at kick-arounds over the summer and knew he was a good player when I played with his brother, Alex. He’s played pretty well in the last couple games. He doesn’t seem to be intimidated by the older guys and he is a really unselfish player that really helps our team. I’m very excited for him and I know that he’ll help us win.”
Rathbun’s first game experience on varsity was the Black vs. Blue game, a scrimmage game between the varsity and JV soccer teams. Rathbun started on the bench, but when Kelly told him he was going into the game, he couldn’t control his jitters. He laced up his Total 90 Lasers and stepped on.
He was playing center-midfield, standing in the middle of the field, where everyone could see. The ball came to him. He wondered if he’d choke. That’s when he got his first touch and after that Rathbun was no longer just a “frosh”. Varsity would win the game 7-1.
“The team understands that for us to be successful we have to gel as a team and become one,” Kelly said. “If anyone is not accepted, whether it is a freshman or a senior, then we will not go far this year.”
Rathbun has #1 on his jersey, because the varsity jokes and calls him the star of the team. He hopes he’ll get the confidence to help the varsity win.
“Tyler is very talented and as long as he keeps a level head on his shoulders and not let the early success get to him he will do well,” Kelly said. “There is nothing worse than a player who is not humble and becomes arrogant because of success, but that is not Tyler’s personality, so I know he will handle it the right way.”