The day after Christmas, a dreary day by Coast standards, Owen Betz was training at a nondescript field in Pass Christian.
The former St. Stanislaus dual-sports star was kicking soccer balls into trash cans from distance to hone his accuracy. It’s part of his daily regimen to stay sharp in the offseason.
As recently as nine months ago, you probably wouldn’t have found the 6-foot-3 goalkeeper putting in extra work on his own, braving miserable weather to get better.
Betz had serious doubts about himself as a soccer player and possibly more this past spring. He had reached a breaking point and nearly quit the game he loved.
But after rediscovering his soccer zen in the midst of a NJCAA All-America season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Betz is as determined as ever to make it back at the next level and possibly beyond.
“I want to take this as far as I can,” a rejuvenated Betz said Tuesday. I feel like I owe it to myself. I have a gift so I might as well try to use it.”
Going off to college
Betz’ collegiate career got off to a slow start at Northern Kentucky due in part to a “slightly” torn meniscus. It took a while for Betz to make his Norse debut, and although he shined once he took control of the goal — posting a 1.46 goals against average and .774 save percentage — he wasn’t happy.
“Oh man, I was really at a breaking point. It was the closest I’ve ever been to quitting,” Betz said. “I knew I needed to leave and just get away.”
Betz was confident he would earn the NKU starting job as a freshman, but the pressure was smothering him.
“Every day going to practice was nerve-racking, feeling like I had to prove myself daily,” Betz said. “I was throwing up in the morning and having crazy, crazy anxiety over soccer, something I’ve played my entire life.
“It was at that point I knew there was no way in hell I could continue doing that.”
Betz said his stress had been wearing him down for a number of years and was an accumulation of things, “but soccer at the forefront.”
A coaching change ultimately gave the Coast native the nudge he needed. In the spring he officially quit the Norse — after something of a “Good Will Hunting” type of epiphany, Betz said.
“The guy who came in, our views really didn’t align,” Betz said. “I was also questioning what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be in life.”
Finding the way at MGCCC
It didn’t take long for word to get out that Betz was leaving NKU.
MGCCC coach Chris Handy reached out and promised Betz an opportunity if he wanted to give soccer a second chance.
Betz mulled it over through the spring and into the summer — he even considered walking on to LSU’s football team to re-join former SSC teammate Myles Brennan — before fully committing to returning to the pitch.
Looking back, Betz is glad he accepted Handy’s opportunity. Betz posted a 13-3-1 record with a 1.34 GAA and .808 save percentage in Perkinston, good enough to be named an NJCAA All-American.
“This past season I really fell back in love with it and now I’m ready to run with it as far as I can,” Betz said, in part crediting Handy for his turnaround. “If I’m not comfortable I really can’t deliver what my full potential can be. I really need a coach who I can connect with on multiple levels, not just soccer.”
Not exactly a surprise, Handy is glad Betz gave soccer another chance, too.
“He gave our team confidence to play. No moment was too big for him and he stepped up big for us all season,” Handy said, pointing to Betz’s work ethic as a big reason for his success.
“I’ve had goalkeepers who make all the simple saves and may get beat top corner. Owen makes the big saves, too. He can make the ones he has no business making.”
Betz committed to Florida Gulf Coast University back in October. While he originally hoped to transfer in time for the spring semester, he’ll have to wait until summer so he can graduate from MGCCC.
He’ll likely have to battle the Eagles returning four keepers from this year’s 8-6-3 team. That’s OK to Betz. He believes he has conquered what held him back at NKU. Now he’s ready to just play soccer and see where his hard work can take him.
“I’ve watched them and they’re good goalkeepers, too,” he said. “(The coach) knows my potential and I think he wants me to come in — nothing’s going to be given, that’s just life — and compete to earn a spot. I think if I just go in with confidence and play like I know I can play I’m pretty sure I’ll earn the job.”
By the numbers