Welcome to the Team: Men’s soccer ready to defend this season

First-years Josh Stewart and Nik Juarez join Butler’s defense. Photo by Claire Runkel.

JIA SKRUDLAND | SPORTS REPORTER | jskrudland@butler.edu 

‘Welcome to the Team’ is a Q&A series where the Collegian sits down with first-year student-athletes who are entering their first season at Butler University. These articles will address why they chose Butler, what they hope to get out of their first season and some personal tidbits that you won’t find anywhere else

This week, sports reporter Jia Skrudland sat down with two first years who are playing for Butler’s men’s soccer team: Nik Juarez and Josh Stewart.

Josh Stewart is a 6-foot defender from Wallsend, North Tyneside, England. Photo by Claire Runkel.

Jia Skrudland: When did you first discover soccer and realize that you wanted to continue at the collegiate level? 

Josh Stewart: I grew up in a place called Newcastle, which is the place where Newcastle United [is] based. Everything in Newcastle is based around that club. Since a young age, my dad supported the team as well, so I followed his passions and had the same type of interests as my family. From that moment, I supported the team, and I really enjoyed watching players like Yohan Cabaye. He inspired [me] to play football for the rest of my life. 

JS: How did you hear about a small school in the midwest all the way from across the pond? 

Stewart: The place where I was at beforehand, Newcastle Academy, helps [players] reach out to different associations, so different teams [and] different colleges. The teacher there actually knew Paul [Snape] already, so I was able to have direct contact with the coach, Snape, which made it easy for me to talk about potentially coming here. 

JS: How would you compare America’s version of football to European football? 

Stewart: I’d say it’s more enjoyable. I feel that I’m able to relax more here because within the first month I’ve already got better friends than I ever had in football in Europe. It’s more enjoyable; it’s more relaxing. It kind of sparked my love interest for the game again. I feel like I lost interest in football in Europe because it was more of a business, more about getting the win and things whereas here, it’s more than that, which I really enjoy. 

JS: What would you say is a misconception about defense in soccer? 

Stewart: I’d say that a lot of people assume that they’re not good [with] the ball and they can’t attack or shoot. People just see defense [as] being just tackling and taking care of the ball, whereas a lot of defenders are actually some of the best ball players on the team. 

JS: What professional soccer player do you draw inspiration from? 

Stewart: Joelinton — who plays for Newcastle United — he’s resilient. He’s really inspiring to me because his first few years at the club, he got a lot of [criticism] because he wasn’t performing very well. After a position change, he’s now one of the best midfielders in the league and he’s thriving. I’m inspired by his willingness to not give up. 

JS: As one of the international players on the team, what are some culture shocks that you have been experiencing living in America? 

Stewart: I’d say the food and the people. The people here are just different, the way they talk, the way they refer to things, the things they [do are] a bit different [than the] way people do things in England, which is good to see. It’s a new experience. The heat is a massive one. In England the hottest it gets in Newcastle is like 20 to 25 degrees [Celcius] and that’s for a couple days a year. Whereas here, it’s [been] 25 degrees [Celcius] for the past two months now. It’s hard to play in to be honest; I’m getting the hang of it. 

JS: What does your game day routine look like? 

Stewart: I would say have a lie in. A game in nighttime, I have a lie in and then I gotta have some dinner or some breakfast. I’d probably just stay in bed all day. I believe in mental rehearsals. I like to mentally prepare myself rather than physically … At Newcastle I used to struggle a lot with nerves, so I feel like getting the hang of the nerves is the best way for me to perform well. 

JS: Besides Okoro, who is also from England, who on the team can do the best English accent? 

Stewart: Luca Raso. I don’t know if he does it on purpose, but he’s actually slowly picking up some English slang without even realizing. He does it quite well, to be fair, so I definitely give him props for that. 

JS: What’s one myth about soccer that you would like to bust? 

Stewart: That soccer players are soft and not strong. A lot of people see soccer as — especially in America —  as a less physical sport. In reality, it’s 45 minutes straight with no breaks. Whereas in American football, you have a break every 30 seconds. [Football players are] covered in their protection all over whereas this sport like yes, you’re not really making much contact but it’s much more physically demanding on your body and similar tackles can be up against some really physical players. 

JS: What is one of your unpopular opinions? 

Stewart: English food is better than American food. [Here] it’s bad quality; it’s actually bad quality. 

JS: What are your thoughts on Ted Lasso? 

Stewart: I haven’t watched it fully, but I’ve seen a lot of it. I really enjoy it. I think it’s a good spin on soccer. It’s a fun way of looking at it … I feel like it definitely bridges the gap [for] Americans in a way. Not many Americans really have an interest in soccer because it’s not really that big here. Whereas like in England, it’s all anyone ever talks about, so I think it’s definitely a way of bridging that gap. 

Nik Juarez is a 6-foot-1 inch defender from Aurora, Illinois. Photo by Claire Runkel

Jia Skrudland: When did you first discover soccer and realize that you wanted to continue at the collegiate level? 

Nik Juarez: I don’t even remember when I first discovered soccer, because I know my dad has loved the game much longer than I have. His love for the game kind of just rubbed off on me. My parents would always tell me stories about how before I could even walk, I’d just be crawling on the ground; I’d be dribbling with my head and stuff like that. I was always meant to play soccer for the rest of my life. 

JS: You’re originally from Illinois, but played high school soccer in Arizona and now playing in Indiana. What has it been like playing across the country? How has it strengthened your game? 

NJ: It has been an incredible experience to learn, not only playing against people [who come] from different styles and different places, [but] just being around with them. I was [in Arizona] for four years for Barça [Residency Academy]. Since it has the link to [FC] Barça, they brought in some players from the Barça first team [who] came over to speak with us which was really awesome. There were opportunities for some people to go over to Spain to La Masia and train with them. It’s just so different from the Midwest style of play compared to the South, the West Coast, the Cali-Arizona and then especially in Spain … They’re good; they are really, really good. It’s just helped me a lot to be able to cover more aspects of the game and not to be one dimensional, but just evolve my game and pick pieces from other people’s games and add them to my own. 

JS: What made you want to be a defensive player versus an offensive player? What do you enjoy about the position? 

NJ: Funny thing is, I think I’ve played every single position in soccer. I played every position, and I was able to perform well there. There was one game I remember, our center back wasn’t there — I was playing midfield at the time — so [the coach] just put me at center back because I was tall to win headers. I played really well there, and really enjoyed it. Ever since then, around 13 or 14, somewhere around that age, I’ve just really loved it. I’ve been able to show how I like to play soccer the most [and] use my vocal gifts as a leader to help direct people in the field and make sure we are able to stay in position. 

JS: What set Butler apart from other schools you received offers from? 

NJ: I was talking to other schools, but Butler was different because [coach[ Snape is friends with the director of Barça, so he came down to watch [while I was in Arizona]. He [watched] our training, and I was able to perform well that day. He was able to watch me fully play with his own eyes, and he was able to say, ‘Yeah, I want you to come here.’ After starting that connection [and] learning more about Butler, I realized that it fit all the criteria. I moved over to Arizona when I was 13 by myself, and I realized I don’t want to be far away from home again, so [Butler is] a three hour drive away from my parents. They come over every home game, so it’s been really great. The soccer here is fantastic and also the feel on campus, the class size, the relationship that students are able to have with [professors], just everything here [was what I was] looking for. 

JS: What professional soccer player do you draw inspiration from? 

NJ: He goes by the name of Vincent Kompany. He’s retired. He is a Manchester City player, and one of the players that actually made me love Manchester City. He [was a] true leader of the game. He [did] whatever he can for the team no matter what. He gave me one of the most special moments as a City fan where he scored against Leicester in the 80th minute. Because of that we were able to win the title that year which was so special. 

JS: Do you take anything from a professional soccer player and mirror it to your game? 

NJ: Yeah, I look towards a lot of center backs. Right now, I love to look at Ruben Dias. My opinion, he’s the best center back on the planet right now. I always look at him a lot, but I also try to look at [Carles] Puyol a lot, [Gerard] Piqué, [Sergio] Ramos; I just look all over. I try to look at different midfielders. Since I played at Barça, they always [showed] different players that used to play for Barça. They always try to have us learn from them like [Andres] Iniesta, Xavi, obviously [Lionel] Messi but none of us can do what he does, but we can always try. I just try and learn whatever I can from anybody. 

JS: Do you have any soccer pet peeves or red flags? 

NJ: Yes, when they start talking smack that defenders can’t finish or can’t do anything on the ball. I know all the defenders here at Butler, and I know a lot of defenders that are very good on the ball. I think one of the best players that I’ve seen on the ball is actually a defender. 

JS: What are three items on your bucket list? 

NJ: The first one would probably just be a really nice watch. I really don’t know watches that well. I’ve seen a couple really nice watches and I was like, that’d be nice. Another one would probably be a nice golf club set. That’d be perfect. The last thing, [would be to go] to Japan with my roommate. 

JS: What game show or reality TV show would you be good at and why? 

NJ: I think I would be good at “Hole in the Wall” because I think I am flexible and nimble enough to be able to find the gap in the hole. 

These interviews were edited for length and clarity


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