At the beginning of this semester, former USF defender Wesley Charpie sat at home, surrounded by family, to watch the MLS SuperDraft in hopes of being selected and continuing his dream of playing professional soccer.
After two and a half grisly hours, Toronto FC drafted the young talent at 29th overall, the highest draft spot in USF men’s soccer history.
Charpie remembers embracing his parents and taking a moment to himself to cry tears of joy. All of his hard work had helped make his dream a reality.
“It’s a bit different,” Charpie said. “You’re playing for a club with playoff implications, putting a lot of pressure on how well you do as an individual and as a team.”
For many collegiate athletes, the freshman season is considered a transition period to the speed of NCAA competition and a time to get into the daily routine of workouts and practices. USF soccer’s star midfielder made it clear at the first fall practice of the 2011 season that he had a very different plan for his initial year wearing green and gold.
Charpie didn’t just want to play for the Bulls in the spring — he wanted to start as a true freshman. His hard work both on and off the field helped convince coach George Kiefer he should be given that chance.
“We felt like he could handle it from the start,” Kiefer said. “Some college coaches stay away from starting freshmen, but if a player is ready then we don’t look at their class but instead if they’re good enough, and Wes definitely was up for the challenge.”
With words of encouragement from friends and family, one relationship that meant a lot to Charpie’s success was the bond he had with goalkeeper Dallas Jaye.
Jaye entered USF as the only other member of the 2011 recruiting class with Charpie. Coming from California, Jaye didn’t know what to expect before heading to Tampa, but he began to contact Charpie shortly after learning they would be roommates in the fall.
Charpie and Jaye spent most days training on the field and most nights pulling pranks on other people in their dorm.
“I would always tell him ‘If something happens, I was always against this,’” Jaye jokingly said. “It was always in good fun.”
With travel back home not always an option for Jaye, several holidays were spent with Charpie’s family instead. The two became closer over time and Jaye’s admiration for Charpie as a teammate grew with more game experience,.Charpie established himself as a team leader through increased communication on the field and support from every player on the team.
“I don’t think there’s a guy in the locker room that didn’t have respect for him,” Jaye said. “He was a good balance of the serious player on the field and the jokester off the field to help role model for others.”
Over the course of his freshman and sophomore seasons, Charpie started every game for USF at the midfield position, and scored five goals, nine assists and 19 total points.
In front of a crowd 3,029 strong at Corbett Soccer Stadium, Charpie barely remembers the screams coming from the stands after he scored the game-winning overtime goal for the Bulls, who advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament his freshman season.
“After I scored that goal I just blacked out,” Charpie said. “I think I threw my shirt off and I don’t remember much after that. It was the best feeling I have ever had.”
Despite his early success, Kiefer and the rest of the coaching staff agreed that switching Charpie to defender would be a better fit for his skills.
“The first time I played at defender it just really clicked,” Charpie said. “When coach and I initially talked about it I was hesitant, but now this feels like the most natural position for what I can contribute on the field.”
With a new position and great friends like Jaye supporting him, along with two years of experience under his belt, Charpie entered his junior season ready to take on the AAC in its inaugural year.
Even as a defender, Charpie accounted for 12 points and 12 assists over his final two seasons and was named to the first-team All-American Athletic Conference his senior year. Charpie and Jaye were among several players who even graduated early, and finished their degrees in just three and a half years.
Now living in Toronto and training with his first professional squad, Charpie has been working with Toronto FC II, the USL training team for the Reds.
Similar to the format of the NBA or MLB with their minor league formats, II teams serve as affiliates that focus on up-and-coming talent, which allow them to gain competitive in-game experience before actually heading to the MLS.
“It gives you good professional experience that you can’t get anywhere else,” Charpie said. “It’s really about proving your worth and showing everyone that you really do deserve to play at the next level.”
Despite the distance, he maintains contact with Jaye, who has since transferred to Xavier University in Cincinnati for his final year of eligibility after he redshirted his freshman year at USF. Currently pursuing his MBA, Jaye hopes to find his own professional soccer career after his final collegiate season next spring.
“He’s only a few months older than me, but I look up to him,” Jaye said. “I’m fortunate that I got to see how he went about soccer on a daily basis, so it’s helped me emulate his success and become a better player.”
Charpie hopes to start for Toronto FC in the near future and eventually for the U.S. Men’s National Team. His ultimate goal is to become an established professional soccer player, and successfully compete in the MLS and around the world.
In the meantime, Charpie’s stint with the Reds has just begun while the relationships he formed during his time at USF continue. Charpie said he and Jaye still talk every day and try to FaceTime when they can.
Jaye said he even wants to get one of Charpie’s new jerseys to wear around town and gloat that he knows a professional soccer player.
But their bond goes past the simple notions of a minor friendship. Their relationship will last long after the letters on Jaye’s replica jersey fade and the Toronto FC II logo is nothing more than a distant memory in either friend’s mind.
In the future, Charpie hopes he can not only reflect on his relationship with Jaye, but be a part of a support system like Jaye was to Charpie throughout the entire process.
“It’s tough for me to sit back and realize just how awesome this whole experience has been and sometimes I even feel like my family and friends are enjoying it more than me,” Charpie said. “It’s always been my dream to play professionally at a high level and I’m going to keep working to continue making that dream happen.”