Demon Deacons reunited in San Jose

Ike Opara, Sam Cronin won an NCAA title at Wake Forest in 2007

For Sam Cronin, the decision to attend Wake Forest University and to play for men’s soccer coach Jay Vidovich was an easy one.

Living just five minutes away from campus Cronin grew to become familiar with the coaches and players, and sensing the program was on the rise, he committed in 2005.

Two years later, the Demon Deacons won the program’s first National Championship.

Cronin was a member of that team, along with San Jose teammate Ike Opara, and both players wish to bring the level of success they enjoyed in college to the Earthquakes.

Under the guidance of Vidovich, who has guided Wake Forest to three consecutive Final Four appearances and enters his 16th season this year, the Demon Deacons have grown to become a college soccer powerhouse while producing professional players seemingly every season.

Currently, there are 12 former Demon Deacons playing in the MLS, three of which are on the Earthquakes: Cronin, Opara and forward Scott Sealy. Another Wake Forest product, Cody Arnoux, played for the Everton FC Reserves during the 2009-2010 season.

“I thought (that) those are the two things I want to get out of college: prepare myself for the next level and win a national championship,” Cronin said.

Opara, who was a teammate of Cronin’s on the 2007 National Championship team, said he chose to attend Wake Forest because of the great balance of academics and athletics.

Opara also cited the professional nature of the program under Vidovich as a reason why he chose to enroll there and why there have been such a great number of professional players produced there.

“Coach Jay Vidovich provides a professional environment but you’re not going to become a pro just by showing up,” Opara said. “You’ve got to put in the work and the effort and with his guidance you have a good shot when you get there.”

One of the most successful players at Wake Forest is Sealy, who is the second all-time leading goal scorer at the school with 43 goals.

Coming from Trinidad, Sealy said that while a number of schools were prepared to give him full scholarships, it was Vidovich who seemed to take the most interest in him. The great academic reputation of the school and the professional nature of the program were also very enticing.

“Obviously coming from Trinidad and being in the school system down there, it’s quite different when you come up to a program that’s really organized,” Sealy said. “We had a coach that was very professional in the way he went about things and I think the guys in the league are just a result of his hard work. A lot of what we do and a lot of recognition we get is due to the way he handles the program.”

Sealy also emphasized that the mindset which Vidovich instilled in the players was crucial to achieving success at the next level.

“The mindset is it’s not just preparing for you to play a college game,” Sealy said. “The preparation is usually for guys who have the best opportunity after school to make it professionally, and I think from freshmen right to the seniors that professionalism is carried on. And if you’re lucky enough and if you’re talented enough, I think it’s easy to make that transition.”

On Monday, Cronin practiced with the Earthquakes for the first time since he was traded from Toronto FC. San Jose coach Frank Yallop said that Cronin is a good passer and a hard worker, among other attributes.

“He’s a young, American player that’s made a national team camp,” Yallop said. “I think there’s a good future for Sam. I think it’s a good pick up for us, for the future as well as now.”

Cronin, who has two caps for the United States National Team, is also reunited with his college teammate Opara, who said that even though it’s been two years, there is still some familiarity between the two former Demon Deacons.

“I think we still have a connection going on.”