Rod Underwood wonders how his life might have been different if he had made the neighborhood youth football team as a 7-year old in Atlanta.
But Underwood discovered he was too small to make the minimum weight.
The next day Underwood signed up for soccer, a sport that was foreign to him.
The rest is history.
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Underwood, 48, went on to play in youth, high school, club and professional soccer. He’s coached professionally for several teams, including as Republic FC’s head assistant coach last season. This year he is heading Republic FC’s new elite youth academy program, which is holding its first tryouts this week.
But Underwood isn’t sure where he’d be if it wasn’t for his parents, Delois Grant and James Underwood, and the many mentors who showed him the way on his journey growing up.
Mom gets a big assist because after Rod signed up for the YMCA soccer team, there was no coach.
“Nobody knew anything about soccer,” Underwood said. “So my mom and a neighbor agreed to coach the team. “From the moment I first touched the ball, I knew I was going to be involved in the game.”
While his friends growing up were playing football, basketball and baseball, Underwood never veered from soccer.
Carl Rosenbaum, his high school and club coach in Atlanta, had a huge role in his developing into an impact player.
“From the moment I walked into the school, he looked out for me personally,” Underwood said. “I was almost always the fastest guy on the team, so I relied on my speed. But he showed me how to get the skills to be a better player. He believed in me.”
John Tart and Roy Rees continued to help Underwood further hone his skills at Furman, where he played on scholarship and was a four-year starter.
But Underwood said his parents primed his drive.
“My mom and dad married at 18, so they never went to college,” Underwood said. “My mom has always been so loving, caring and supportive. My dad started as a mechanic at Sears and worked his way up to regional manager despite his limited education. To see his hard work, that’s so much a part of me today.”
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