The Samford Crimson: Speak a little bit about your life before professional soccer. What was it like going to Duke and being a member of one of the most renowned basketball teams in the country?
Jay Heaps: I did a little more sitting than playing at Duke, but I can definitely say that I would not have been able to become a professional soccer player if I didn’t play basketball. When I think of it now with my kids playing sports and the time crunch, that was always a bit difficult, but I was actually a better student when I was playing both sports. I was there for soccer, but I ended up making the basketball team. My soccer coach didn’t want me to only play, so him and Coach K (Duke head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski) ended up working out a deal where I would be on a scholarship for basketball so the soccer team would have an additional scholarship to go use. After soccer would end in the fall, I would join the basketball team in late November or early December and would stick with the squad for however long we went that season. But soccer season would have a spring season, so I spent time doing basketball workouts in the morning and then soccer in the afternoon or evenings. However, that was when I was at my absolute best as a student because I would use any time left to study. Don’t get me wrong though, I always had fun too.
Crimson: What was your transition like from playing soccer at Duke to professional soccer with the Miami Fusion and the New England Revolution?
Heaps: When I went to Duke, I was more of a winger and forward and even an attacking, slashing midfielder. That was all four years in college. When I went to Miami, I was drafted by a Brazilian coach who wanted to play a 4-2-2-2, resulting in very little width. It would come from the outside backs. We had to go forward and back and it was basically like playing a right midfielder position. After a coaching change, I went back to wing. When I was traded to New England, I had to switch to right back after they brought in Steve Ralston to the midfield. I had to become a lock-down right back in a very systematic, tactical defense. I was using my athleticism a lot in the midfield, but I had to be a lot smarter as a defender.
Crimson: What do you believe were some factors that led to your defensive success in the MLS, most notably, your Defender of the Year award in 2009?
Heaps: First off, good teammates, because I really believe you are only as good as your team. I also played hard and I think that was the key. There are going to be ups and downs with the team, but that is part of it. You start focusing on the team as a whole and have the best possible performance as a team. Anything individual comes from that and I think that’s what you see with guys like Tom Brady. He wants to win and that is what elevates him. When you care about your team, you don’t get caught up in anything else.
Crimson: You are now identified as one of the most important members of Legion FC. How has your wealth management helped you during your time as a coach and as president of the Legion?
Heaps: As an Econ minor and taking finance classes, I really wanted to get a job that dealt with revenue and other similar things. It all started with my time as head coach of the Revolution. I built a relationship with Tommy Soehn (Legion FC Head Coach), as he was an assistant of mine at the time. I always enjoyed the financial side of things and it was very interesting to me. Coming to the Legion, having dealt with financial things before at Duke and in the MLS, I was ready to take on this project. Birmingham Legion is a big project. I feel like Tommy and I have a great understanding of what we are trying to accomplish in Birmingham, and also that we are here for a long time and consistently do the right things, financially and also for the community. It’s really why I love what I do because it is a combination of things I have done in the past.
Crimson: Looking forward to the season, one of the biggest challenges is the loss of Bolu Akinyode. Could you speak a little about what he meant to the squad and how that gap will be filled this year?
Heaps: Bolu was a great guy and a great player. He played a lot of center back for us, which is not his primary position. We were hoping to fill his spot with another center back and move him back to the midfield, but when the transfer offer from Miami popped up, we decided that it would be a perfect fit for him and his style of play. After a few conversations, we were able to agree to terms and we wish him the absolute best of luck. It was a win-win-win. The Legion could profit from it, Bolu is on a team he is very excited about and Miami was able to get the guy they wanted. This year, we are planning to return Mikey Lopez to the midfield a bit more.
Crimson: What is your goal for this season in terms of community outreach and what can Legion fans get excited for this year?
Heaps: Many people know that the three pillars of the organization are passion, pride and community. Community is something we think about every day. Obviously our fan engagement is a big part of that, as we try to locate some of their passions as we try to build an organic feel at our club. COVID has definitely impacted the ability we have of getting our players out in the community to do clinics and outreach in terms of USL protocols, but we are doing our best while staying safe. I want to get more involved with the downtown Birmingham school system as well, bringing the game of soccer to downtown schools. Soccer is a great gateway sport to other sports and that way, you become a better athlete as a result. Once COVID calms down, we can get back to normalcy and focus on those things.