Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Watching Texas A&M's senior forward Merritt Mathias play soccer, one would think she was born kicking the ball around. It is hard to fathom that she was forced into the sport during her kindergarten days.
As a shy little girl, Mathias' teacher thought she needed something to stimulate her social skills, an activity that might give her more confidence. Mrs. Patterson had no way of knowing she would lay the foundation for what would become Mathias' love and passion.
"She [Mrs. Patterson] is retired now and I went to go see her over the summer and thanked her," Mathias said. "I don't think she really had any idea that if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be doing this at all. She could see that I had more to me and pushed me to my potential."
Once she got a taste of the game, Mathias became obsessed. She started playing and practicing in every free moment she had.
"I grew up in the fun era of women's soccer," Mathias said. "Like most young girls, I wanted to be Mia Hamm. I wanted to go play at North Carolina. I wanted to go be on the national team. I wanted to be her."
Recognizing her natural ability and rhythm with the ball, her dad became her biggest fan and has served as her driving force ever since.
"My dad is my hero to this day," Mathias said. "He was the one that pushed me to work hard. He would tell me that if I wanted to be the best at something then sitting on the couch wasn't going to cut it. I knew I needed to work hard and he instilled a lot of that in me."
Her dedication and determination paid off as she experienced early success before her college days. She was a U.S. U-17, U-16 and U-15 Women's National Team member and a National High School Coaches Association All-American in 2006 and 2007.
One of the top-ranked national recruits according to Soccer Buzz Magazine, Mathias was snagged by the University of North Carolina when she was only a sophomore in high school.
"I set up an official visit to check it out and really see the ins and outs of UNC," Mathias said. "Everything I wanted fell together when I went up there. It was an offer I couldn't refuse. My dream had pretty much come true. At that time, I immediately said yes."
Spending her first two collegiate years at UNC, Mathias played well. As a freshman, she saw action in 20 matches and scored two game-winning goals. Her sophomore year she played in 19 matches, firing off nine shots, five of which were on goal.
"There was a lot of good and a lot of bad," Mathias said. "There were memories that I have that I will never forget and cherish them, but then there are memories that I will never forget that have taught me so much about myself. I think the experience there wasn't anything that I was expecting for both good and bad reasons, but everything worked out in the end."
Mathias knew it was time for a change and started to look
around at other universities, but there was one in particular that stood out.
"We had played A&M my freshman and sophomore year at UNC and every time they came and played, they competed," she said. "It always stuck in my head that I liked the way they played. I thought they were a really good team and really well coached. I came here on my visit and absolutely loved it. I knew that this was where I wanted to be. I wanted to come to a place where if I worked hard, I was going to get that opportunity to play and I saw that promise in that program. "
Coming to A&M has proved to be beneficial; Mathias has blossomed as a player in the two years since transferring from UNC. The Birmingham, Alabama-native had an impressive junior season, starting in 20 matches. She earned Big 12 Player of the Week accolades twice and netted nine goals on the season. She had four game-winning goals and a career-high six shots on goal against Indiana. She wrapped up the season with 23 points, 85 shots and was named to the All- Big 12 First team as well as the Big 12 All-Newcomer team.
"For a while I took for granted how much I loved it and how much it influenced my life and impacted everything around me," Mathias said. "I also became complacent with the player I had become. I think by coming to A&M I have had to push myself in different ways. It has changed my outlook on myself, as a person."
Deep into her senior season, Mathias has no desire to stop playing anytime soon and she attributes her continued love for the game to the soccer program at A&M.
"People grow as a player here and are able to perform instead of being confined to a specific way to play," she said. "I want to go play in the World Cup or the Olympics. I think if I had stayed in North Carolina, I wouldn't still have these goals. After transferring, it kind of revamped my love for the game. I have absolutely loved it here."