Aaron Verdell entered his senior year at Columbus High School without a single offer to play college soccer.
The standout defender, whose goal has always been to continue his career at the collegiate level, felt his confidence slipping, too.
But as always, Verdell persevered. He dedicated himself to finding a home, even heading west to compete in a soccer camp in Arkansas. And after a recent tryout at Meridian Community College, Verdell and the Eagles realized there was mutual interest.
At last, Verdell had made his college choice. The Falcons senior capped an at times stressful collegiate recruiting journey by signing to MCC on Wednesday morning in the Columbus High gym.
“It means everything because I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself, honestly, when I started off the year with zero offers,” Verdell said. “But I’m glad to see all my hard work and talents weren’t wasted.”
The senior recently finished his sixth season playing for Columbus, taking on a leadership role for the Falcons. Head coach Joseph Richardson, who started as an assistant for the team the same season Verdell first joined the program, said it’s been fun to watch Verdell’s improvement over the years.
“He’s matured and grown so much from a boy to a young man on the field and off the field,” Richardson said. “This year, he really, really stepped up as a leader for us when we really, really needed him because we were so young this past season.”
After not seeing much playing time in seventh and eighth grade, Verdell became an integral part of the Falcons’ lineup in his freshman season — the same year Richardson took over as head coach.
“Once he hit ninth grade, unless he was injured, he was on the field,” Richardson said.
Highlight plays followed. Late in a match against Caledonia in his sophomore season, Verdell made a crucial slide tackle to jostle the ball free from an opposing player who seemingly had just the goalie to beat. Verdell was shown a red card (a call with which Richardson still disagrees) but kept the score tied rather than allowing Caledonia to win.
“It was a game-saving play,” Richardson said.
Verdell said he’s only gotten better thanks to the Falcons’ conditioning program and the technical skills he’s learned in practice. Richardson said Verdell has taken it upon himself to put in extra work on his own time whether with Columbus or the Starkville Soccer Association’s Impact Football Club team.
“My game has expanded tremendously — the mental aspect and the physical aspect and passing, the ball movement and all that,” Verdell said.
By his senior year, Verdell had become a player whose physicality and intelligence on the pitch stood out. When the ball was headed toward the goal line off an opposing player, Richardson said, Verdell would simply outmuscle his opponents and keep them away from the ball until it rolled out of bounds for a Columbus goal kick.
As one of four seniors for the Falcons, Verdell naturally stepped into a leadership position this season. It was something he learned season after season when Columbus sent off its senior class year after year.
“I had to step up for a while, so it helped me out with my leadership skills,” Verdell said.
Now he’ll head to MCC to be part of a relatively new program under coach Sam Wilson. Verdell, who had one other offer besides the Eagles, made it clear he chose Meridian for all it offered him.
“I didn’t settle,” he said. “I liked Meridian, so that’s where I’ll take my talents.”
In signing Wednesday, Verdell took the final step in a process he was happy to see come to an end.
“I know it’s something he’s been working hard for for these six years,” Richardson said.