Robert Morris sophomore Brett getting his kicks
The adjustment wasn't going to be easy, and Neco Brett knew it. He was leaving his native Jamaica to attend college 1,500 miles away in a foreign country.
At least he had soccer. Until he assimilated into life at Robert Morris, he could find solace in the game he had played fanatically since age 6.
“I could see it in preseason his freshman year,” said coach Bill Denniston, who recruited Brett and two other Jamaicans on the current roster through a contact he made while coaching at Alderson Broaddus 20 years ago. “He's got speed, he's got strength, ability and skill and determination. He's at the next level.”
But four days before his first game, Brett was injured. He missed the first two games, and even when he returned, he never was completely healthy. He missed four more games throughout the season, and his struggles on and off the pitch began to take their toll.
“Then, I wasn't eating as much and sleeping and so forth,” Brett said. “I was thinking coach must be really upset giving me a full scholarship. It's like a waste of money.”
Brett didn't register a single point as a freshman.
Rather than wilt under the disappointment, he decided it was time to get tough. Before going back to Jamaica for the summer, Brett promised Denniston he would lead the team in scoring in 2013.
He has made good on that vow — and then some.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, the sophomore is leading NCAA Division I with 34 points (13 goals, eight assists). He needs three points in Sunday's finale at St. Francis (Pa.) to tie the RMU single-season mark.
Brett knew he could compete. For him, as with many other Jamaican boys, soccer was his life. Most days during his youth, he was out the door early — sometimes without the luxury of shoes — to play with his friends. The competition often lasted until dusk without even a passing thought about stopping to eat.
His persistence and talent led to spots on Jamaica's Under-17, U-20 and U-23 teams, but he needed a breakthrough at RMU. He finally got his first goal in the Colonials' second game this season.
“I just had to get myself together, and everything would be fine,” Brett said. “Scoring goals would not be a problem. You just need to score one, then you just need to carry on.”
That he has. His 13 goals are just two fewer than the Colonials had as a team in 2012. In back-to-back wins, 3-1 over Buffalo and 2-1 over George Washington, Brett had all five goals. Even Northeast Conference champion Central Connecticut State had no answer. Brett recorded six shots and the Colonials' only goal in a 2-1 loss this past Saturday.
“They couldn't stop him,” Denniston said, “and they're screaming his name every five seconds.”
The Colonials (8-7-2 overall, 2-4-0 NEC) won't qualify for the NEC Tournament, but they are assured of finishing no worse than .500 — a vast improvement from last year's 5-12-2 showing. Brett is confident of an even better season next year for the team and himself.
Denniston acknowledged that Brett may have a tougher time getting as many good looks at the goal now that he's known. He already has noticed increased attention from opposing defenders.
Brett, however, welcomes the challenge. Comfortable in the U.S. and again able to focus on his first love, he has his eye on a much loftier goal total.
“Next season,” he said, “I have to set my target to 25.”
Chuck Curti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.