Dear Older Forrest,
I'm writing this letter to you as a reminder as to why you play the game.
For as long as I can remember, you always had a unique love for the game. It wasn’t just the game itself that made it so special to you, but it was the reach the game had on everything and everyone else in your life.
You started playing right after you learned to walk. You loved having the ball at your feet. It wasn’t only new to you, but it was also new to your parents considering they didn’t grow up playing.
For a while, soccer was more so an activity for you. Your parents signed you up for a local rec team and, considering all the headers you took in your career, there’s a good chance you won’t remember this, but you weren’t always a center back. In fact, you first started as a center forward, scoring goals week after week.
Soccer was also seasonal for you. You played soccer in the fall, but the other seasons were meant for basketball and tee-ball. Looking back on it now, if you would’ve known you were going to be 6-foot-6, you probably would’ve taken basketball more seriously.
As you started to grow up, the game found its way to the feet of your siblings. Being only 18 months apart meant that while you were on different teams, soccer was still competitive between you and Cullen. You’d get home from school and immediately head to the backyard to start kicking around where y’all would envision yourselves as some of the best players in the world.
Some days you’d be Brian McBride, others Clint Mathis, and sometimes Cullen’s favorite, Cobi Jones. It’d be fair to say that you were the stereotypical American soccer fan when it came to soccer -- you didn’t know much about it outside of the U.S. As you got older, your love and admiration for the game kept growing alongside your knowledge. Honestly, you owe it to EA Sports and FIFA because you started playing with other teams from other leagues which began to broaden your soccer horizons.
You eventually convinced your parents to let you tryout for a “travel team” at CASL. Even more exciting was the fact that you would soon be trying out for your middle school team. You would play for the Daniels Blue Jackets and produce almost two undefeated seasons (you ended up losing the last match of your middle school career to your rival, which I know you remember perfectly well, considering you were the one who gave away the PK in the final seconds of the game). It was around this time when you finally began to understand that, as a defender, you couldn’t take as many risks as you could as an attacking player.
Regardless, you were still proud of going 15-1 as a Blue Jacket.
It was also during these years that you and your teammates started to take soccer very seriously. So serious that on game days you’d wear your complete kit (jersey, sliders, shorts and socks) to school, typically underneath sweats. You were literally ready to take the pitch anytime.
After middle school, you’d finally get a chance to play for Broughton. You would spend preseason with the varsity squad before being told you’d spend your freshman year on junior varsity. Whether coach Hernandez would admit it or not, being a 5-foot-6 prepubescent freshman playing defense most likely didn’t help your chances of making varsity. That year, you and your teammates would go on to set a Broughton JV record by going 18-0.
Even though you thought your world was collapsing after being cut from the top club team and failing to make varsity team as a freshman, you learned a valuable life lesson: to never let a “no” define you. To take every no and every failure as a chance to improve, a chance to get better. Every “no” was a catalyst for future success.
You would go on to start on the varsity team for the next three seasons, setting a few records along the way, but failing to win a state championship of your own.
You achieved your dreams in some senses by playing for Daniels and Broughton, but there was still one goal that constantly fueled your drive: to play in college. You would have the opportunity to play at a number of schools across the southeast before deciding to play for Wofford. This was a dream come true. You would spend the next four years playing for the Terriers, competing against some of the top teams in the nation while earning numerous accolades. But what you loved most about those years didn’t appear on the stat sheets.
The training sessions before Halloween when the team would wear costumes, the “captain’s practice” weekends before the official start of preseason, the weekends with a home game in the afternoon and a football game at night. You spent four years doing what you had always dreamed of by playing collegiate soccer and having fun while doing it, but you weren’t done dreaming.
You wanted to play professionally. You always had.
After your senior season with Terriers and not being drafted, you were then faced one of the toughest decisions of your life thus far: to continue to chase your dream, or return to school to graduate a semester later and enter the “working world.”
You went down to Charleston to train with the Battery and put in a strong enough performance to be offered a contract for the 2015 season. However, you still needed to figure out how you were going to finish your degree. Academics were still of utmost importance to you because you knew you wouldn’t be able to play forever.
Thanks to coach Anhaeuser, the Charleston Battery, and Wofford, you continued taking classes that spring and fall by commuting back and forth between Charleston and Spartanburg once a week so that you could graduate in December. This was one of the hardest times of your young adult life. You had to balance the demands of playing professional soccer while still taking classes in an environment where all of your peers were nearing graduation (and their social lives indicated such).
After your rookie season, you returned to Wofford as a graduate assistant for the soccer team while you finished your degree, which allowed you to still be a part of the program you love and cherish. This was a definitely a special experience for you, but the transition from player to coach wasn’t easy. You went from being the teammate that got in trouble and had to do extra fitness work, to being the coach that reprimanded the guys who got in trouble and had extra fitness work. But being their ex-teammate, you were more understanding than the other coaches and weren’t as tough with punishments.
After three seasons with the Battery and earning a spot on the USL All-League First Team after your final season, you decided it was time to move on. You chose to sign with FC Cincinnati for your fourth season.
There was something you would come to learn as you matured during your playing career. The idea that your actions and the how/why you played meant more than your play itself.
One’s faith grows and strengthens through personal experiences, and you found yourself testing your faith early on. From the time you were cut from the top club team, to multiple occasions in college, and even your first few years as a pro. You learned multiple lessons through your trials and tribulations, but each test brought you back to a verse your father first shared with you in Micah 6:8: to “seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”
You learned early on that without the Lord’s blessing, nothing you accomplished would’ve been possible. And that with your faith and personal beliefs, anything is possible. You continued to mature and began to play less for yourself and more for Him.
You associated yourself with three different hashtags: #LittleKidBigBody, #FaithFamilyFutbol, and #dreamchasing.
#LittleKidBigBody. You still played the game because it was fun. You loved the game as a little kid and as you grew older, you continuously reminded yourself it was about having fun. You were a little kid in a big body, loving and appreciating the game as if you were still that little kid.
I would even guess that the older, post-professional soccer Forrest, still plays the game. I’d guess you’ve joined adult leagues and still celebrate goals like you did when you were younger -- by doing some ridiculous dance.
#FaithFamilyFutbol. One of your youth coaches told you early on that only three things mattered: your faith, your family, and soccer. In that order. Regardless of your circumstances, you reminded yourself every day that F.F.F. was your foundation.
#dreamchasing. You were chasing your dream. You never accepted failure. Whenever you were faced adversity, you humbled yourself in the reality that you weren’t perfect and turned the adversity into motivation.
You’re writing this to your older self, not knowing when you’ll be reading it. But if there is anything that the younger me would want to tell the older me, it’s that you embraced every challenge and seized every opportunity. And no matter how things turned out, you gave it your all and you had a pretty damn fun time doing it.