TAMPA – With eight starters departed from last fall’s side, the University of Tampa men's program may be a team in transition during spring practice, which began last week, and this upcoming fall.
If central midfielders Karl Swan and Ryan Griffin have anything to do about it, though, the Spartans will be back to make another run at a Top-5 finish and a national title.
Two of the three returning starters, Lister Warren being the third, Swan and Griffin have run the center of the Spartans midfield since being moved there during their freshman seasons in a game against Rollins College.
“Ryan Maxwell got red-carded, we were tied 0-0 in the game, he gets red-carded with about five minutes to go in the (first) half, we had to play down a man,” Spartans coach Adrian Bush said. “We popped Ryan and Karl in there, played with three in the middle, and from that day forward they haven’t left the position.”
A big reason for that is how well both players game’s fit together. Griffin is the bigger of the two, listed at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, and is constantly in the thick of the game, winning possession in the air and on the ground when opponents have the ball. Swan, at 5-10, 155 pounds, is the distributor, directing play as he uses his passing ability to switch the point of attack and move the team forward.
Both Swan and Griffin played together for RSL Florida prior to becoming Spartans, winning three state championships in five seasons with the club. Swan thinks that while it might have taken longer for the two to jell had they not played prior to UT, the fact that they had was beneficial to the Spartans program.
“With both our strengths, it would have taken a little bit longer,” Swan said. “I think it would have taken a year, maybe even two years to put both our strengths together. It was a great plus we had RSL and played four or five years together.”
That success at the club level, and in their first two season as Spartans has both players believing the side will be as strong in the past two seasons, with Griffin looking forward to taking a more active leadership role on the team.
“We’ve obviously got to take the reins now,” Griffin said. “The team is looking to us now, it’s our time. I’ve always been a very vocal person on my team, as I have for the past two years, but now the words mean a lot more, make sure you compliment the young guys coming in, make sure they can assimilate themselves well into the program.
“I’m not going to change anything personally, still working out the same, but definitely vocally I've got to be the voice of the team.”
And that is exactly what Bush wants both players to be.
“The leadership part, stepping up and being more vocal as a leader is something we’re going to expect of them,” Bush said. “These guys have played at a very good level and are accustomed to winning, and I think just feeding that type of mentality and that type of work ethic to everyone on the team, and especially the new guys coming in, is going to be the most important thing we can get from those guys.
“They’re team guys. They’re about the team, will play any position that you ask and are just about getting results, that’s all they care about.”