RHYAN HENSON | Multimedia Editor
Goalkeeper Jon Dawson and defenseman Jordan Burt are both rookies this year in the North American Soccer League. Only a year ago both called Butler home.
Although both of them are enjoying the benefits of their collegiate successes now, the road to get there was not an easy one.
Approximately 1 percent of college student-athletes go professional. The margin for college soccer players is even smaller, according to NCAA statistics.
“I had been turned down from professional clubs. I just did not give up and kept trying,” Dawson said. “I did not take ‘no’ for an answer and tried my best.”
Butler men’s soccer coach Paul Snape said neither player was pro-ready when he came into Butler. It took years of work and practice for them to hone their skills into what they are today.
“They did not stand out straight away for me,” Snape said. “Every time we spoke to them, they kept on picking things up.”
Snape said both players work hard and share a drive and desire to improve. However, they came into their own in completely different ways.
“(Burt) plays with an enormous amount of heart, (and he is) a warrior when it comes to tackling,” Snape said. “In the last year we have been comparing him to other players who were going pro. He started to believe in himself. He was always a hard working kid then he started playing with intelligence. He is a guy who bleeds blue and white and loves Butler—a true leader.”
Snape said Burt played frequently last season and the team was worse when he was off the field.
Snape said Dawson’s talent came a little more naturally.
“Jon had potential and it was inconsistent,” Snape said. “It was in the last year where we said, if he gets it together, focuses and was disciplined, he could have success. He made improvements in his game, and I am not surprised he got picked up.”
Dawson relishes the new opportunity that years of training have brought him.
“It is a dream come true,” Dawson said. “It is something I have worked on (since) when I first started playing. I am grateful for all the hard work I put in, and I am grateful for all the coaching and support.”
Dawson’s success did not come immediately. After redshirting his first season at Butler, he sat on the bench for another season before he got his chance to shine. He said his time on the bench early in his career had a lot to do with his success in the latter stages of it.
“Jon is a talented goalkeeper,” Snape said. “He has really improved in his last few years, and that has to do with maturity. Him sitting had a lot to do with him improving his skill.”
It was in the latter part of his career where Dawson realized he would not have to give up his dream: Playing the game that he loves.
“It kind of happened in my senior season, when I started getting interest from various professional clubs. (I realized) if I kept working and doing things that this could be my job,” Dawson said. “I am just along for the ride, and I am trying to ride it out for as long as I can.”
Burt also realized the potential of a professional career in the latter part of his time at Butler.
“It was always a dream when I was really young, but (during) most of my time at Butler, I didn’t really think it was a possibility,” Burt said. “It wasn’t until my junior year that I started thinking about it seriously, when my good friend Ben Sippola (Columbus Crew) urged me to give it a go.
“Since then I have always had it in the back of my mind. When I was done at Butler, I needed to see if I could make it at the next level, so I just went on as many trials as I could get.”
The hard-working mentality is common amongst team members. Burt said his success came from hard work and dedication as well.
“I had lots of doubts along the way, but I just tried to focus on doing what I do best,” Burt said.
Burt said he believes his own effort is not the only reason behind his success.
“I think the people in my life are the primary reason I was successful on the field,” he said. “I have always had great family, teammates and coaches giving me the tools to succeed.”
After Dawson and Burt played together for four years at Butler, it was only fitting for them to start their professional careers on the same field—this time wearing opposing uniforms.
“It was very special,” Burt said. “To get my first cap as a pro in front of my family, friends and old teammates is a script you can’t write. To be able to share that with Dawson and to represent Butler, I felt very honored.”
The feeling was mutual.
“It was unbelievable to share a special experience,” Dawson said. “We have been through a lot and it was special for both of us, and it was a good representation for the type of program Butler has.”
Burt also recognizes the strong Butler program for helping him develop.
“On the field, Butler soccer allowed me to grow every year, which is a testimony to the team and coaching staff,” he said. “I was definitely not the most talented player on the team last year, if that tells you anything about the quality of program we have. There was no better place to play in the country because of all the people involved.”
Butler may be in Burt’s rearview mirror, but his Carolina teammates help keep the memories alive.
“I loved Butler, and it will always hold a special place in my heart,” Burt said. “Here in Carolina, the boys call me ‘Butler.’ I don’t know if it’s because I talk about it a lot or what, but it is great to represent the school I love.”
Although Dawson is no longer at Butler, he said he is still excited for what the future holds.
“I love playing at the pro level,” Dawson said. ”Every day is a battle and a competition. Once you get a taste of it, you do not want anything else.”