Longtime coach Nick Archer retired last spring, after winning five state championships. New head coach Jeffrey Lyons and the 2018 Trojans want to keep the titles coming.
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Nick Archer started two soccer programs 41 years ago. Five state championships later at East Lansing High School, Archer was known as one of the best soccer coaches in Michigan prep history.
After an incredible career, Archer decided to retire this last spring. He is no longer on the sideline, but the goal for the Trojans boys soccer team remains the same: win another state championship.
Which is something the team has never done without Archer at head coach.
The players want to show that the winning tradition can continue. They’re having another strong season, with a 12-4-2 overall record, and 5-2-1 in conference.
Jeffrey Lyons, a longtime Archer assistant, has taken over as the team’s new head coach.
“Archer never walked into the program thinking about his legacy,” said Lyons, who is only the second head coach in East Lansing boys soccer history. “His perspective was always about putting the players in the best opportunity to win and that’s how I’ve addressed that.”
It seems strange not to have Archer on the sideline, but it is clear that the Trojans are finding ways to move ahead.
On a chilly Wednesday night at the East Lansing Soccer Complex, players, coaches and fans filed into Archer Stadium for the boys soccer game. Things looked and felt normal. The Trojans defeated Waverly, 8-0.
But expected uncertainties still loom over this team in the wake of Archer’s departure. Archer did not respond to numerous interview requests from WKAR Current Sports.
“A lot of other programs in the area think that we might be going downhill just because he left,” said senior forward Kai Francisco. “But we are trying to show that we can still compete with the best teams.”
Only three of last season’s starters returned this year for the Trojans. Francisco, Carney and senior midfielder Olivier Richmond all played significant minutes under Archer.
Lyons chose to rely on the senior trio for leadership, knowing they would be important in the big transition.
“He opened it up to the seniors,” said Carney. “Before the season started we all met up and broke down what we expect and gave advice and tips to carry over from last season.”
The adjustment to a new coach, even one that is very familiar, has been eased by Lyons coaching philosophies and methods being heavily influenced by Archer.
“I’ve been with him since 1997, so what ways has he affected me as a coach, everything,” said Lyons. “How you run a program, how you treat your players how you view the game. He’s the ultimate mentor if you’re looking for one. And even though he’s not here we severely miss him a lot just because of what he meant to us.”
Lyons knows that Archer left this program in good shape.
“He kept parts of Archer’s style while integrating some of his own stuff,” said Knapp. “Kind of meshed them together.”
Tactically, the Trojans effectively use their veteran forwards. In the win over Waverly, Francisco, Carney and Richmond each scored one goal.
Defensively, there are a lot of young players that Lyons is working to improve every day.
“The system that we’re running is the same system we ran back then,” said Lyons. “Holding the ball into the attacking third is something that this group is very good at. The cool part is that we have some outside backs that can be dangerous in the attack too which you’re lucky to have if you can have some players that are that skilled.”
Lyons’ assistant coaches are former players under Archer. JP Navarro and Julian Birge played for the Trojans less than 10 years ago and now hold the same role that Lyons did under Archer. “From a coaching standpoint I think one thing he always did that sticks with me is he always involved everybody in the program,” said Navarro. “How important it is to use everybody around you and let them do their best work so that he could do his best work and focus on the players he had.”
Birge learned from Archer as both a player and a coach in different ways.
“I got to see the other sides of him other than just as a player. I got to see the way he did things, the behind the scenes things,” said Birge. “In important moments, the way he was able to really get his players to respond.”
Archer meant more to the players than just a soccer coach.
“He was just a guy that cared a lot about your character as well as how you are as a player,” said sophomore defender Will Knapp. “He was respected by everyone.”
Paul Carney, senior co-captain and midfielder, knows that Archer influenced his players outside of just soccer.
“His demeanor that he wanted you to have on the field you took off the field too.”
A state championship game appearance last season is something that the Trojans want to build on. Lyons wants to continue Archer’s winning tradition while staying just as humble as the man himself.
“I don’t really think about me I think about the players I have and the legacy that they leave,” said Lyons. “My hope is that the program is in the same place when I leave it as when I inherited it.”