Eureka College Soccer

Tom Batters
Randy Crady

Randy Crady taught juvenile delinquents for 35 years, played basketball against Kareem Abdul Jabbar (who was known as Lew Alcindor back then), and cleared seven feet in the high jump ­— the hard way, before the Fosbury Flop.

So, the daunting task of starting two college soccer programs from scratch did not faze him.

Crady, 60, the men’s and women’s soccer coach at Eureka College embraced that challenge in 2006, when he started both programs.

Both teams played at the club level that first season, and both teams lost every game they played.

For Crady, an energetic, optimistic man, the winless seasons did not dampen his spirits.

He hit the recruiting trail and spoke from the rooftops to anyone who would listen to him tout the Eureka College soccer program.

Some recruits walked away. They preferred a larger school, or one that could offer them a full ride.

But some actually listened, and, like a struggling salesman who finally lands a big account, Crady started luring in talented recruits.

The next year (2007), the men’s and women’s teams dropped their club status and played for real in NCAA Division III competition.

The women’s team won seven games, which was the most wins among the seven first year Division III programs. The men’s team did not win a game that first year, but they won two the next year and five last year.

“We struggled that first year, as a club program, but I still felt good about the future,” Crady said. “Eureka is such a great academic institution. It has so much to offer a student. I knew I could get some good players here. I just needed to go out and find them. Plus, you would be surprised at how many quality kids were already here.”

Raising the bar

Crady grew up in Chillicothe and attended Chillicothe High School (before it became Illinois Valley Central).

He was an all-state basketball player and an all-American high jumper.

In 1968, he won the state championship in the high jump when he cleared 6’10,” which was the highest jump in the nation that year.

“It’s hard to believe that this big old fat body could make it over a high jump, isn’t it?” he said, laughing. “But, believe it or not, I could do it pretty well at one time. That was before the Fosbury Flop, too. And, we didn’t have all these mats and padding. We landed on sawdust and concrete. I ended up bleeding most of the time.”

He received an athletic scholarship from Bradley University, where he played basketball and stuck with the high jump (he finished in the top 12 at Nationals while at Bradley).

He played basketball against Artis Gilmore, Lew Alcindor, and a bunch of other future Hall of Famers.

“I remember playing against Gilmore (at Jacksonville). He had a huge wingspan. I went to take a shot in the corner, and nobody was around me, and all of the sudden Gilmore swats the ball in to the tenth row.”

Crady was inducted in to Bradley’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1993.

After graduating from Bradley, Crady got a teaching job at Youth Farm in Peoria.

Most of the kids who end up there have a troubled past. Some are fresh out of the Department of Corrections. Others have ties to gangs.

“I loved it there,” Crady said. “I really enjoyed the challenge of reaching those kids, and trying to make their lives better. I used to get letters from former students, and they would say how much I helped them. That meant a lot to me.”

Crady also spent 24 years in the U.S. Army reserves. He retired in 1997 with the rank of Sgt. Major.

He earned a master’s degree from Illinois State University in 1980.

A new endeavor

Crady’s soccer background started with a favor.

In 1972, teaching colleague Jim Van Buren asked Crady if he would help him start a youth soccer program.

Crady agreed. Shortly after that, he became a licensed soccer referee, so he could stay involved in the sport and learn more about its strategy and rules.

He went on to officiate seven state championship matches. He earned the state’s highest ranking for officials, and became an instructor for referees and a founding member of the Peoria Area Soccer Officials Association.

He served as an assistant soccer coach under Danny Driscoll at Metamora Township High School for five years and was the freshman/sophomore girls head coach for one year.

His oldest son, Michael, was one of the key players who put Metamora soccer on the right track.

“He was a tremendous athlete, and he bucked the trend when he chose soccer over football,” Crady said. “Some of his friends came along with him, and we started to have some success there.”

In 2003, Michael (along with his younger brother, David), led the Redbirds to their first-ever Regional championship.

Michael is now an assistant coach for the Eureka College men’s team. David, who was 20th in the nation in assists last year, will be a senior on that team this season.

Crady’s daughter, Annette, will also play for him, after transferring to Eureka from Illinois State University last year.

Crady, who lives in Germantown Hills, had retired from coaching when he heard that Eureka College was looking for a coach to start its men’s and women’s programs.

“I told myself that I would not do it. I was ready to just stay retired, but a part of me also wanted to coach again,” he said.

He called former athletic director Sandy Schuester on a Thursday. He interviewed on Friday morning and was offered the job Friday afternoon.

“For a second, I might have thought, ‘what the heck have I gotten myself into?’ But, I was too excited about the opportunity. I was ready to get to work and start building this soccer program.”

Keep the ball rolling

Crady credits his son Michael, and assistant coach J.L. Zapushek for helping guide the soccer programs.

“Without them, I could not do this job,” he said. “Coach Zapushek (women’s) and Michael (men’s) do a lot of the day-to-day practice stuff, which allows me to oversee both programs,” he said. “They are both so valuable to me and to our players.”

Crady said both programs are starting to get more recognition, which makes recruiting easier. The new soccer fields have also been a huge boost, he said.

“We’ve been to a lot of colleges, and I believe that we have the best fields of any of them,” he said.

Eureka’s Brian O’Malley led the nation in scoring last year (26 goals) for Division III colleges. David Crady was a National Academic All-American.

“Anytime you get positive national recognition like that, it can only help the program,” he said.

The Eureka College men’s soccer team will open its 2010 season at noon Sept. 21 at home against Kaskaskia College.

The Red Devils were 5-14 (three of those losses came in overtime) last season.

The women’s team opens its season at 2 p.m. Sept. 21 at home against Robert Morris-Peoria.

The women’s team was 5-13 last year (they also had three overtime losses).

“Both teams will be competitive,” Crady said. “We’re all looking forward to getting the season started.”