Jackson, Tenn. - 4/8/2002 - by Michael Booth-sports editor, The Now Newspaper-Canada
Three years after North Delta's Jeff Lean took over the goalkeeping duties for Union University's men's soccer team, the school has taken steps to keep the position in the family for another five years.
Lean will be back at the small Tennessee school for his final year beginning in the fall and this time he will have some company. Not only is he getting married over the summer, but his younger brother Chris has accepted a scholarship from Union and will be following in his footsteps guarding the Bulldog nets.
"Now there's going to be a real family atmosphere for me and that's something I haven't had," Jeff said during a trip home last week. "There's really good people there but I haven't had that family atmosphere there before now. I was sort of off by myself which is something I wanted to do. I wanted to see what I could do by myself but now to have a brother there and a wife there, it's going to be a very nice year for me."
Both of the Lean brothers are products of North Delta Minor Soccer and attended Seaquam secondary. Jeff graduated from Seaquam in 1999 while Chris will finish Grade 12 later this spring.
Jeff arrived at Union in the fall of 1999 in time for the school's second season of competitive men's soccer. In his three seasons in Tennessee, he has been named a National Christian Colleges Athletic Association all-American three times and an NAIA honourable all-American once.
Jeff's success on the field and his positive experiences in Tennessee paved the way for Chris to make a similar journey to the southern U.S. school.
Chris made several visits to Union to see his brother play. He has stayed in the dorm, practiced with the team and even attended classes. The school didn't have to recruit him because, for the most part, he was already there.
"It made it easier for him," Jeff admitted. "But I really believe he could have gone to any school he wanted to. In a sense, it made things easier for him in that I was there and the scholarship was out there for him more or less since I got there. For him it was easy in that sense but if he hadn't decided early that he wanted to come play with Union and myself, he probably could have played anywhere he wanted."
Chris added, "I was happy to get the scholarship but it wasn't as much of a surprise for me as it was for Jeff. When he got his it came out of nowhere - he threw his name out there and they contacted him. For me, I've been visiting that team for the past couple of years and I know almost all of the guys. It was more of a gradual process for me."
The coach of Union, Darin White, wants Chris to red-shirt for his first year with the Bulldogs while Jeff wraps up his senior year as the number one keeper. After that, Chris will have a four full years of eligibility leaving Union with the potential of eight consecutive seasons with a Lean goalkeeper.
Chris is coming off an impressive year for a 17-year-old goalie. He played on the B.C. team that earned bronze at the Canadian Under-17 championships and even had a tryout in England with Middlesborough.
He returned to Canada in time for the fall season but opted not to play youth soccer and instead earned a spot tending the nets for Firefighters in the Vancouver Metro Soccer League's first division.
Chris said experience playing against men should help him make the transition to college soccer next year.
"Even when I was playing with the B.C. team in the summer, we played against men's teams," he said. "I've been playing against men for almost two years now so adapting won't be too much of a change for me. In the first year I will be red-shirted so I'll be able to watch and learn for another year."
The idea of red-shirting - attending school but sitting out one season before joining a team - is not always a popular option for many athletes. Chris said he naturally wants to play but he also understands how important the senior year is to his brother.
Chris said his time spent at the school and his comfort with the team and its coaches made the idea of red-shirting more palatable.
"I like the scenario that I'm going into," he said. "I get one year there with Jeff and then I get to go on my own. As a goalkeeper, by red-shirting in the first year while he's still there I will still have four years to play and establish my own identity. It's almost like I'm getting the best of both worlds."
For his part, Jeff said the extra year of preparation will do wonders for his younger brother. When Chris finally does get to play, he will be more experienced and ready for the job.
In Jeff's estimation, his younger brother will be more than capable of filling his cleats.
"I think he'll adjust very well to it," he said. "He'll red shirt next year and if he doesn't have any struggles, we will adjust in that year. In his freshman year I think he will hit them by storm. For him to have a year to prepare and then play four years, he will be ready. Anything he might struggle with will be corrected in that red-shirt year. When he finally does play, he'll light things on fire."
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