Elon University men’s soccer junior forward Jason Waterman isn’t after personal records.
While Waterman has the job of filling the void left by Chris Thomas, who led the country in goals and points in 2012, following Thomas’ 23-goal season with one of his own isn’t what the forward is interested in.
“It’s not about individual accolades. It’s team,” Waterman said. “We have goals for the year. As a team, we’re definitely focused on getting places this season we’ve never been.”
Through seven games this season, Waterman leads the Phoenix with four goals and 10 points. Elon is 5-1-1 in those seven games.
In recent matchups, Elon has taken on top-tier opponents in Wake Forest University, who came to Rudd Field ranked No. 9 in the country, and the College of William & Mary. The Tribe visited Elon coming off a double overtime victory against No. 1 Creighton University.
Throughout the team’s home stretch, Thomas has been in the crowd as a spectator. He’s seen Waterman fill the gap he left and said he’s quite impressed with what he’s seen.
“He’s always been a goal scorer,” Thomas said. “He’s got the finishing touch. He’s definitely on scouting reports for teams coming in. It’s obvious when you’re a top scorer for a top team in the country. But he just works hard and understands nothing is handed to him.”
Following Elon’s 3-1 victory against the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Sept. 14, a game in which Waterman scored twice, Waterman said scoring goals with Thomas in the crowd meant a lot to him because of how much Thomas taught him while the two were teammates.
“I played behind Chris for a few years, so it does mean a lot to me to score goals in front of him because he really taught me a lot,” Waterman said. “He was obviously a terrific player. I’m sort of carrying the torch for him so it’s kind of an honor.”
What exactly did Thomas teach Waterman? After all, Thomas is the player who won Southern Conference Player of the Year twice and finished his career at Elon with 51 goals, even though he sat out majority of his junior season with injuries. It wasn’t how to put the ball in the back of the net. Thomas said Waterman already knew how to do that. Instead, he taught him how to have amnesia.
“The most important skill a forward can have is having amnesia,” Waterman said. “Chris taught me that. If you miss an opportunity, next time you get one, you’re just as confident you can finish even if you missed the last one.”
Head coach Darren Powell shared the same sentiments, saying Thomas was instrumental in shaping the kind of player Waterman is this season.
“You’re going to miss some chances as a striker, but Chris was able to share those things with Jason and he’s given him confidence and Jason has taken that on board and he’s been great,” Powell said. “He works ever so hard, so just by sheer work alone, he’s going to get chances. If he scores, he scores, but he’s very good at getting on with the next opportunity when it comes up.”
Waterman said Thomas also taught him “to be confident regardless.”
“You can’t worry about what happened the play before or what’s going to happen on the play after,” Waterman said. “Just focus on now and be confident, don’t worry so much.”
The learning game is a two-way street, though. Thomas reaped the benefits of that in his time with the Phoenix.
“Waterman is always a lot of competition,” Thomas said. “He taught me to be on my game all the time. There is no down time. I was envious of Waterman because of his hard work and work ethic. He’s the reason I wanted to work hard my senior year.”
Thomas admitted he was always worried about Waterman taking his position because of the competition he provided.
“Quite honestly, I was worried about him until I started scoring a bunch of goals,” Thomas said. “That gave me a little more comfort to stay starting but I thought at times he was definitely going to overtake me.”
While Thomas kept his starting position, Waterman said the competition between the two was there from the start and he was determined to push Thomas for his job.
“From the beginning, we fought each other a lot,” Waterman said. “Chris obviously started ahead of me, but sometimes we’d play together, sometimes I would start ahead of him. It just created a sense of urgency for both of us to know that no spot is safe.”
Waterman knows that mentality has carried into this season as well with sophomore forward Caue Da Silva on his heels.
Da Silva has played in each of Elon’s seven games thus far this season, starting three of them. Prior to coming to Elon, he started 18 games in 2012 at Delta State University, scoring 16 goals on his way to earning Gulf South Conference Co-Player of the Year honors.
“Caue is a terrific player,” Waterman said. “It still holds true. Nobody’s spot is safe. We have people that can step on and make an immediate impact. That’s how good and how deep our team is. Certainly, if I miss an opportunity in practice but Caue makes it, that just motivates me more to know, ‘Alright, I have to get my next one to secure my spot.’”
Adding to the competition is the ability for the Phoenix to play multiple formations — some of which allow both Waterman and Da Silva to start up top.
Against Wake Forest Sept. 17, the Phoenix started one forward — Waterman. Three days later against William & Mary, Powell elected to start two forwards up front — Waterman and Da Silva.
“Our team can play a multitude of ways,” Waterman said. “We were assured that against Wake Forest and William & Mary. We know people can come in and fill roles and we don’t miss a beat. That’s what good teams do — they find a way to win regardless of how it’s done.”
Like Waterman said, it’s not about personal accolades for individual players — it’s about the team and each player on it.
“We have really high expectations this year because of the chemistry on this team,” he said. “It’s really a tight-knit team. Everybody cares about each other and everyone hangs out with each other. Nobody is selfish and everybody is here to win. Nobody is here for their own glory.”
But how far can Waterman’s tally go this season? According to Thomas, it can soar — just as long as he remembers to keep pushing himself and what being on a team is all about.
“He can go on and score a lot of goals as long as he keeps pushing himself and doesn’t expect that teams are just going to fall over for him so he can get a goal a game,” Thomas said. “He’s going to keep going as long as he keeps working hard no matter how frustrated he gets. But the main thing is to make sure the team keeps winning. Make sure you always put the team in front of you. As long as he keeps working for the team, he’s going to keep scoring.”