DU Captains Ready to Lead the Pioneers in 2017
Seniors Graham Smith and Alex Underwood are both wearing the captain's armband in 2017
Aug. 26, 2017
DENVER -- In the revolving door of college athletics, where one class departs and a crop of new players come into the team every offseason, it's the senior leadership that often leads to success in the postseason, or in NCAA soccer's case- knockout-style matches in the cold months of November and December.
As the sun rose on the 2017 University of Denver men's soccer season Friday, the third-ranked Pioneers' senior captains Alex Underwood (Winnetka, Ill.) and Graham Smith (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) helped lead the Pioneers to a 3-1 win over Florida Gulf Coast. On Friday, head coach Jamie Franks opened his third season in charge of the program and his sixth campaign with the program overall.
"From a coaching staff perspective, we just watch who leads guys in adverse times when we think about our captains for the next season." Franks said. "Alex is well liked by everyone he comes across and he's got a lot of humility. He uses that to his advantage, and above everything else, he leads by example. Talk about a guy that does it in the classroom and socially. He's the SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) President, he's got a great GPA and now he's the captain of our team.
"If I had anything to do with it, when Graham was coming out of high school, I'd have made sure he started his career at Denver. He's a special kid and you can feel that when you're around him. He has great composure, is very well thought out and he's a calculated man. When he talks, people listen. Just like Alex though, he's a leader by example. He's got unbelievable grades, he's one of the fittest guys on the team and he's one of the hardest workers on the team. His teammates listen because he'd never ask anyone to do something that he's not willing to do himself."
In 2016, it was Underwood's goal scoring that kick-started the Pioneers second-consecutive unbeaten regular season. The senior winger netted three game-winners in the Pioneers first six matches of the campaign, including in his return to his home state with the go-ahead goal at Northwestern. Underwood's service from the left wing took the Pioneers to their first College Cup in program history in 2016 when his right-footed cross found the head of Kortne Ford in the 89th minute to send Denver past third-seeded Clemson in the national quarterfinals.
"I think that Jamie saw a little bit of leadership potential in me in my freshman or sophomore year before I even saw it in myself." Underwood said. "I realize the responsibility that comes with the role of being captain, and I'm excited to have Graham with me to help lead this group to another successful season."
When Underwood put on the armband on Friday, he was one of three returners that finished in the top four in scoring for the Pioneers last season. He is joined by the striking partnership of redshirt senior forward Blake Elder (Fort Worth, Texas) and junior Andre Shinyashiki (Sao Paulo, Brazil), the duo that provided Denver's three goals in the opener on Friday.
"There's not really a day that goes by that I don't think about the College Cup last December," Underwood said. "It has added fuel to the fire for us in the offseason and preseason. With the older guys gone, I realized in the winter that the responsibility to continue the path this program is on is with our current upperclassmen. I think us older guys as a whole are ready to step into this new leadership role to get this team to Philadelphia, and hopefully go and win it."
A transfer from Oregon State after his sophomore year, Smith was a Summit League Second Team selection in 2016, sitting in-front of Denver's backline with two-time captain and Colorado Rapids First Round draft pick Sam Hamilton. Friday marked Smith's first CAP with the captain's armband in and around the backline, as the Pioneers look to continue the defensive success they've had under Franks, finishing third in the country in goals against average in Smith's first season with the program in 2016. A year prior, Denver finished second in the nation during Frank's first year in charge in 2015.
"It's an honor to be a captain," Smith said. "I grew up going to DU soccer games, and I have a lot of family history at this school. Growing up, this is always the place I really wanted to go. To follow up a guy like Sam and to be able to lead with a guy like Alex, we all have our different styles but it's about being the best at how we lead."
Franks, who became the first coach to lead his program to back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons since the late 1970s, enters Monday night's clash with Akron at 36-2-6. The 2016 National Coach of the Year trusts in his captains and their leadership styles, as the Pioneers shifted the campaign into drive this weekend.
UP NEXT: The Pioneers continue their four-match homestand to open the regular season on Monday when [3/4] Denver welcomes [16/18] Akron to the Mile High City. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. MT, and will be broadcast live on Altitude.
SEASON TICKETS: Tickets for the 2017 Denver men's and women's soccer seasons are on sale now and can be purchased here. Season tickets for the 17 Denver men's and women's soccer home matches are just $55.
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