Athletes showcase talent during AFC Winter College Combine in Alabaster

Published 5:43 pm Wednesday, January 31, 2024

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By NOAH WORTHAM | Managing Editor

ALABASTER – Alabaster’s Veterans Park was filled with athletes showcasing their talents to coaches across the country during the Alabama FC/Birmingham United Soccer Association’s AFC Winter College Combine.

For the second year in a row, Alabama FC/BUSA held its AFC Winter College Combine at Veterans Park in the city of Alabaster. On Sunday, Jan. 28, the park saw 265 players display their talents in front of 70 coaches from Division I, Division II, Division III, NAIA and Junior College levels.

“Our goal is to get as many players placed for colleges as efficiently as possible,” said Ben Parks, director of coaching at Alabama FC/ Birmingham United Soccer Association. “We see this as a largely member-based benefit from a low cost perspective. If you’re a male or female player, you are not going to get 70-plus colleges looking at for $95 for two hours (anywhere else).”

According to Parks, the winter combine serves as a low-cost nationally attended player-based soccer identification camp.

“We created the format largely to tailor to the individual players themselves (instead of) making it a team-based event,” Parks said.

The combine included two time slots with one for girls from 10 a.m. to noon which saw 140 players attend and one for boys from 1-3 p.m. which saw 125 players attend. It featured high school freshman athletes and older. The combine not only featured local players but also saw attendees from other states across the South.

“It’s a lot of people from across the region,” Parks said.

The event featured five to six individualized skill stations with a college coach running each one. The coaches were able to follow the other players that they wanted to see after each station and groupings were based upon graduation year.

The design of the AFC Winter College Combine allowed the organization to showcase the potential player’s skills.

“The way the event is set up, it does largely project pacing, technique, decision-making (and) all of that sort of rolled into one event,” Parks said.

The combine is rigorous and fast and featured drills that change direction alongside fast break games as well as games where players have to be dynamic to stand out.

Parks shared that the amount of coaches interested in the combine are evidence of how well it showcases the player’s talents.

“If the players didn’t show well, we wouldn’t have near as much attention,” Parks said.

The AFC Winter College Combine not only functions as a platform for recruitment but also serves as a revenue stream for the city of Alabaster as the traveling coaches and players rely on the city’s businesses for food and hotels for housing.

“If it’s garnering that level of attention within that particular community, I think that’s a good thing for the city of Alabaster (and) Shelby County,” Parks said. “I think it’s also good from an economic impact study (perspective) as well.”

Parks shared that the program benefited greatly from the venue and amenities at Alabaster’s Veterans Park.

“The facilities themselves that the city of Alabaster has put together is top notch,” Parks said.

Now with the AFC Winter College Combine completed, Alabama FC/BUSA is preparing to host two other events with its ECNL/ECRL Skillz Combine set for May 8-9 at Rathmell Sports Park and the AFC ENL Pre Tryout College Combine on Monday, May 13 at Rathmell Sports Park.