Mississippi underdog defeats odds

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Massimo Nuzzo
Sports Reporter

 Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Chandler Shirley said he began playing soccer at the age of two. While Mississippi isn’t exactly a soccer Mecca, the “underdog” association given to players from states without a massive focus on soccer is something Shirley said helped in his development as a player. 

“Soccer is not really that big in Mississippi, so it’s kind of always been an uphill challenge,” Shirley said.

“There’s always been a little bias. If you see a kid from Mississippi you’re automatically not going to think he’s as good as a kid from Texas or Florida. That helped me in my development, being the underdog.” 

Shirley shook off his underdog status, though, after an illustrious high school career (highlighted by 30+ goals and a state championship his senior year) at Northwest Rankin High School earned him the attention of multiple programs across the country. The University of Memphis, High Point University and East Tennessee State University were all interested in the now 19-year-old forward, but ultimately it was UAB who secured Shirley’s signature.  In addition to the quality of the soccer program, Shirley said the overall quality of UAB helped him in making a decision. 

 “We [Chandler and the team/school] just clicked when I came on my visit,” Shirley said. “I loved the campus, I liked the direction the team was going and the school itself not just necessarily athletically, but the educational side [as well].” 

 An issue regarding his core GPA forced him to redshirt for academic reasons his freshman year, meaning he was unable to play and only allowed to practice. A situation he said was “heartbreaking,” things didn’t get easier for the Mississippi-native. In the first game of the 2018/19 season, Shirley tore his ACL, an injury that would keep him off the field for the foreseeable future.  However, he didn’t let the injury fully demoralize himself, he said. 

“After awhile I just kind of sucked it up,” Shirley said. “It happens. It’s life. You just got to bounce back harder”  Unable to play, he used the time to focus on getting back to 100 percent and learning from Coach Jeff Kinney so that, come his return, he’ll be ready to execute on the pitch. 

 Standing at 5 ft 11 inches, Shirley fits the bill of a technical forward. Shirley said he compares his play-style to Liverpool Football Club’s Daniel Sturridge, a professional he models his game after. Combining technical skill with pace and an emphasis on contributing in team play while attacking, Shirley’s return to action will be a welcome one in a UAB side that has high expectations for the upcoming season.  “If the way we’re going continues, and we get new people, new pieces to strengthen what we already have, I believe that we could be national champions,” Shirley said. Shirley has his eyes set on an April 6 return, when UAB will face off against Memphis. Having recently been cleared to play, Shirley said the time leading up to the game will be used to get game ready after seven months without a game.  

Shirley said he looks forward to finally showcasing his talent in a team that looks ready to give Blazer fans a lot to cheer for this fall. “Each day I’m going to do more and more in practice, so I think by the time game day comes I’ll be going full throttle,” Shirley said.

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