Jan. 19, 2009
Rome, Ga. - There were no lush, green soccer fields to learn on. For two young Americans, the dirt and sand of Africa served as their training ground growing up - and Ryan and Kyle Timberlake wouldn't have had it any other way.
It was normal for the brothers who count the blessings they've had as sons of missionaries and who have infused faith and family on another continent. They also know that they have just as much a home at Shorter College, where they have made soccer a family affair and stand as a clear example of just how far the Hawks' program has come over the past few years.
"They're great kids," Shorter coach Josh Severns said of the Timberlake brothers, who played a key role in helping the Hawks capture their first-ever regular season conference championship last fall and will return this year for their final season hoping to add to the success. "They love the team and they love to play."
The love is certainly one that was embraced from the jungles of Gabon and the war-torn Ivory Coast, to the centuries-old city of Dakar in Senegal, where they lived with their parents Jim and Shari Timberlake as the couple moved from country to country on the western coast of Africa working for the Christian Missionary Alliance.
"We were moving all the time," Ryan said, "but you get used to it."
Ironically, the move back to the United States and to Shorter came through the family for the brothers, whose maternal grandparents live in Georgia - they were missionaries for 40 years, Ryan points out - as do an aunt and an uncle.
When Ryan was ready to head to college, he selected Shorter where his cousin, Brian Arnold, played and eventually graduated from in 2007.
"I just wanted to play," Ryan said.
A year later, Ryan suggested to Severns in the coach's first year with the Hawks to bring Kyle to Shorter.
"Just receiving a video of Kyle from Ryan was a bit of a task in itself," Severns said, "and it's very tough to call Africa."
"I looked around and it just seemed like the best place for me," Kyle said of his decision to attend Shorter. "I wanted to go to a college that was small."
The re-unification of the brothers has given the Hawks a potent combination in more ways than one.
Ryan, who had to sit out his sophomore year - Kyle's freshman season - with an injury has become a mainstay for the team on the wing and as a forward, while Kyle has emerged as a dangerous center midfielder where he earned All-Southern States Athletic Conference First Team honors last year.
The two have the brains to go along with the feet as they were named to the SSAC All-Academic team in the fall, while Kyle also earned NAIA Scholar-Athlete recognition and was named to the SSAC Champions of Character team.
"Both have gained a lot of experience over the last couple of years," Severns said, "and that experience came to the forefront last fall."
"There's more short passing and speed," Ryan said about the differences between the style of soccer played in Africa, where speed and skill are trademarks, and American. "(When I came here) it was aggressive. Over here, players come after you hard. Over there they respect you more and mark you more. It took the first half of the season my freshman year to get used to it."
"You don't have a lot of time to do things with the ball," Kyle added.
For Severns, having two players who can bring an African style of the game to Shorter is a big plus, especially when they walk on to any pitch.
"They can handle the ball and play on any surface," the coach pointed out.
The brothers are still pondering what the future has in store for them, one that still has two more brothers - Tyler graduates from high school in Dakar this year and Cory, Kyle says, may be the best of the four - hoping to join their older siblings.
Ryan will graduate next December with a degree in business administration and Kyle on track to graduate in 2010 with a degree in sports management.
And even though they have thought about following in their parents' footsteps as missionaries - for Ryan it's a "maybe" and for Kyle it's "possible" - both would like to return to Africa.
"We'd both like to go back there," said Ryan.
But there are immediate goals first, both brothers point out, goals that involve the sport that has taken them from one land to another and has placed them at a school and on a team they feel are family.
Said Ryan: "We want to go out with a bang."