The Bulls’ media guide, published before the beginning of the season, called junior Aaron Paroulek “a solid role player,” whose speed would likely be utilized “as a spark off the bench.”
But Paroulek had other ideas.
After coming off the bench in the first five games and contributing a goal and an assist, Paroulek has started the last six.
In his first start, Paroulek added two more helpers and moved into fourth on the team in scoring, where he remains. Saturday, he scored the lone goal in an important road win at Marquette.
“It was really lucky,” Paroulek said. “Jeff (Thwaites) took a shot. Their goalie made a save, and it went to a defender. He made a clearing attempt, and I got in the way. The ball went in off my leg.”
While the goal may have been lucky, it was no accident that Paroulek was in the right place at the right time. He had three of USF’s six shots and was a constant threat. In fact, he calls his energy on the field his best asset.
“I’m not a lot faster; I’m definitely not a lot bigger than anyone else, but I try to keep moving as often as possible,” he said.
First-year coach George Kiefer said the 5-foot-9, 160-pound midfielder helps him put a more solid team on the field.
“We were giving the ball away too much,” he said. “You’d like to have the most technical team out there without losing too much athleticism. Aaron has good technique, and he’s athletic. He’s been a very solid player for us. I’m very pleased with him.”
Paroulek said he used the prediction in the media guide as motivation to work hard.
“That was probably because of last year, and that’s what I did,” he said. “I came off the bench a lot. They took an educated guess as to what happened last year and what they thought would happen again.
“If you understand what Coach wants in practice and try to do all those things, and you can still do all those things when it comes down to the game, then he’s going to try and play you. If you do what he wants, you’ll probably be a starter.”
While Paroulek is not surprised by his starting position, his mother, always proud, is now happy for him.
“I was quite surprised that he was a starter,” Paroulek’s mother, Shirley, said. “I was, of course, very happy that he was starting, I felt that he had played to the level where he could contribute.”
However, Paroulek does not feel that he has established himself as a must-start player.
“I would never say that I expect to start,” he said, “but the possibility is always there. I am glad that we have four guys who can play outside midfield. It makes me work harder because I know that every one of them can play.”
Paroulek was born in Dallas and moved to Florida in the summer of 1993. His parents, John and Shirley, still live in Seminole with Aaron’s sister, Rachel, a senior at Seminole High School. Paroulek said he is still close with his family.
“I talk to them a lot,” he said. “They’re real supportive. They come to as many games as they can.”
Paroulek’s parents actually made the trip to Milwaukee, Wis., for the Marquette game.
“It was cold,” Shirley Paroulek said. “We’re not used to that. But it was kind of exciting the way it turned out. So far, I’ve seen nine out of the 11 games.”
Paroulek started playing soccer as a 7-year-old in a recreational league in Texas. His biggest soccer moment was winning the Florida state cup for under-12-year-olds in 1994. He also played for the Clearwater Chargers and captained the team to the U-19 FYSA state cup final last summer.
His academic career has been similarly successful. The computer engineering major is the rare student who didn’t change his field of studies in college.
“The further I go, and the more computer classes I take, the more I like it,” he said. “I’m actually kind of looking forward to getting a job later on.”
Despite his recent success on the pitch, Paroulek has no illusions about playing professional soccer.
“Sure, it would be great,” he said. “It’s just so difficult. You watch those guys on TV, and it’s their whole life.”
A look at Paroulek’s academic achievements reveals that he has struck an efficient balance between sports and academics. As a senior, he received the John Lynch School Athlete Award, and he has received Conference USA’s Sports Academic Award. He is currently a member of his major’s honors program, and his GPA is 3.73.
“He’s always been a very good student,” Shirley Paroulek said.
As a senior at Seminole, Paroulek was recruited by the University of Tampa as well as USF’s former head coach, John Hackworth.
“I know Coach Hackworth watched me,” he said. “It was between USF and UT, but it seemed like such a privilege to me to get to come here and play.”
Interestingly, Paroulek came close to having to end his playing career as a high school sophomore. In 1997, the then 16-year-old was diagnosed with a degenerative bone disease in his right knee that sidelined him for nine months. The blood supply to the end of the femur and the knee was cut off, and Paroulek’s knee was dying. For six months, Paroulek couldn’t put weight on his knee but still made it to all his team’s games and practices to watch from the sideline.
“He was always juggling a ball with his healthy leg,” Shirley Paroulek said. “He’s got so much energy, it drove him crazy. But he rebounded from that.”
Kiefer said one couldn’t ask for a better teammate than Paroulek. “He fits in great,” he said. “Aaron is really hard not to get along with. He’s a real good kid.”
“He was a very easy child,” Shirley Paroulek said. “He’s a lot like his dad, a laid-back personality. He doesn’t go with the big crowds. I’d call him a homebody.”
In high school and at Clearwater, Paroulek played defense, but at USF he has made the switch to midfielder.
“It’s been exciting to see him play at a new position and get some of the glory,” Shirley Paroulek said.
Saturday, Paroulek gets another opportunity to provide a spark when the Bulls face conference leader Saint Louis at 7 p.m.
Most likely, it won’t be off the bench.