Nov. 11, 2009
By Larry Watts
The Ohio State soccer roster lists him as 5-foot-8, 155 pounds, but even Austin McAnena admits, "that's pushing it."
But if there is one thing people have noticed since the Laguna Niguel, Calif. native first stepped on the Columbus, Ohio campus a few months ago, McAnena knows how to push it to the maximum of his ability. The freshman has already emerged as one of the top three scorers for the Buckeyes. And, he is a walk-on.
"The main reason I came to Ohio State was I wanted to experience something new," he says. "I'm a California guy, lived in Orange County all my life, but I wanted to experience another part of the nation.
"I had already been accepted at California-Santa Barbara, Cal Poly and the University of San Diego, but last spring break I decided to visit Fordham, Boston University and Ohio State. I came to Ohio State with no expectations and when I came here it was pouring rain and freezing. But I just fell in love with the campus and people. It all just seemed to click for me."
So playing soccer for the Buckeyes was not at the top of McAnena's priority list. Even if he didn't make the team as a walk-on, he says he would have been happy just to be in Columbus.
Fortunately, Mike Gartlan, McAnena's club coach with the Mission Viejo Pateadores, already had a working relationship with Ohio State head coach John Bluem.
"He (Gartlan) came up to me at a recruiting event in Sarasota and told me he had a player for me," Bluem says. "I had worked with Mike before and I knew him from his days as a player at California-Irvine. He had sent me some players while I was coaching at Fresno State.
"He told us about Austin, so we started asking for some video. We had no idea how good this kid was and we wanted to se him play before we extended him an invitation to our tryouts."
Not only did Bluem receive the video, but also as luck would have it, Buckeye assistants Taly Goode and Frank Speth would get a chance to see McAnena play in person during the Academy Showcase in North Carolina in late June.
"My team wasn't even supposed to be there," McAnena says. "We had finished fourth in our division and only the top three teams were invited to play in the Showcase. But the third team used an illegal player and we replaced them.
"Our team didn't play very well, but at least the assistant coaches got a chance to se me play. They told me to come out to the soccer tryouts and see how it goes. I thought I might be just a training player, but I was willing to come out and help the team in any way I could."
But after his arrival at Ohio State, McAnena started having some doubts.
"I was really homesick those first two weeks of preseason," he says. "I started thinking I couldn't do this because it was too hard. But my parents encouraged me to wait it out and I ended up loving it."
Not only did McAnena make the team, but he also found himself in the starting lineup as the left midfielder in the exhibition opener and he hasn't left the starting lineup since.
"I always thought I was a hard worker, but I was stunned when they put my name up on the board for the opener," he says. "I was freaking out the entire time. I was more worried about not making mistakes than playing my best."
"He fit right in," says Bluem, who usually takes five or six walk-ons on his 26-man roster. "Austin is a very smart player and very competitive. There's not a lot of size to him, but there's a lot of fight in his game.
"For a guy who doesn't have a lot of size, he's brave and will to get in there to tackle and fight for the ball. You don't see that in a lot of players that size.
"His fitness is very good and he has a great engine. He can last for 90 minutes at a good pace. He has a very good soccer brain and knows where to be on the field. He has been taught well as a club player."
Getting used to Big Ten soccer was a big adjustment, according to McAnena.
"The soccer we play in southern California is more finesse," he says. "But the physical play here was a big shock and this level is much faster than I played in club ball. That first collision kind of woke me up, but once I got used to it, I started going after other guys. You just have to adapt and play soccer.
"I don't think my size is going to intimidate anyone, but I do hope to get a little bigger so I can keep up with these guys. I do lift weights, but I'm naturally small and my body type doesn't tend to gain a lot of weight. And if I do gain weight, I want to do it naturally."
And with his plans to major in human nutrition, McAnena has no doubt he will go about it the right way. He hopes to become a sports nutritionist after his schooling is completed.
McAnena gives a lot of credit to his success to his 24-yer-old brother Matt, who played club ball at Loyola Marymount.
"He's still playing on two or three club teams," McAnena says. "When I was younger, he always practiced and played soccer with me. He's the one who brought me to this level and I wish he had gotten the same chance I have."
It hasn't taken McAnena long to figure out a common bond he shares with many others around Columbus. "I can't stand USC," he says with a laugh. "I'm more of a UCLA fan. But it is really amazing to be around so many people who are so passionate about Ohio State football and the other sports."