Ukrop flashes college spirit Rookie impresses team with his grit

November 06, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

The license plate on the car says a lot about the driver. It reads, "H82LSE."

"Hate to lose," Spirit rookie Rob Ukrop said. "I have the competitive spirit of my father. He's my hero, because of the way he's lived his life. He's such a great competitor."

In his younger days, the elder Ukrop, Bobby, was recruited by then-Davidson (N.C.) basketball coach Lefty Driesell. When Driesell could offer only a three-year scholarship, Bobby Ukrop wound up at Richmond.

A feisty guard, he captained Richmond as a senior and today owns Ukrop's Supermarkets, Inc., a Richmond-area chain.

The Ukrops, Bobby and Jayne, are traveling from Richmond for tonight's game here against the Canton Invaders after missing the Spirit's opening win over the Chicago Power in which their son scored his first pro goal.

While he was in college, his parents saw 25 of 27 games, he said.

The younger Ukrop, who did attend Davidson, had a dazzling college soccer career, leading the nation in scoring with 72 points last year. He was a first-team All-American and among three finalists for the Hermann Award, college soccer's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

"The highlight of the season was when Davidson, which didn't give soccer scholarships, beat teams that

did, like North Carolina, UCLA, Duke and North Carolina-Charlotte," Ukrop said. "We beat No. 2 N. C. State to make the Final Four. Davidson hosted it -- Virginia, Duke, San Diego and us.

"The whole area got into it -- people calling for tickets, TV interviews, clinics, small kids that we had taught rallying around us. There was a crowd of 9,000 when we lost in the semifinals to San Diego, 3-2, in overtime. It was a neat experience. We showed those kids if you put your heart into it, you can achieve."

Ukrop is Davidson's all-time leading scorer (184 points) and became the first soccer player in school history to have his jersey (No. 6) retired.

He wears No. 66 with the Spirit, which is a story in itself.

"I wore No. 6 when I was in grade school and wanted the number when I got to high school," Ukrop said. "But No. 6 was a large size and I needed an extra large, so I took No. 17 -- you know, seven minus one is six. At Davidson I got No. 6 as a freshman."

When Ukrop joined the Spirit for training camp, Steve Nichols had No. 6. The club suggested No. 66, pointing out that the higher number might inspire him to take his game to a higher level.

"I was thinking about asking for No. 6 again when I played so poorly in the first half of the opener," Ukrop said, noting that the number became available again because Nichols didn't report to the Spirit. "The second half, I felt more comfortable and natural after scoring the goal. I guess I'll keep 66."

At 6 feet 2 1/2 , 195 pounds, Ukrop is, in coach Kenny Cooper's opinion, "a great physical specimen." He is big and strong enough to absorb the abuse taken by the target man, a forward who sometimes plays with his back to the goal.

"His size gives us a presence on the floor," Cooper said. "He's an out-and-out target man. That'll take the weight off guys who have played there, like Rusty Troy and Timmy Wittman."

As soon as he saw Ukrop, veteran goalie Cris Vaccaro saw that the rookie had the "essential tools -- size, strength, shot."

Vaccaro was not thrilled when he had to stop Ukrop's hard shots in scrimmages.

"It was too early in the morning to take that kind of abuse," Vaccaro said, smiling.

SPIRIT TONIGHT

Opponent: Canton Invaders

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7:05

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM)

Tickets: Many available

Outlook: Canton, last in the National Professional Soccer League's American Division last season, drew early inspiration for a higher finish with a big opening victory. The Invaders defeated the Wichita Wings, the National Division's defending champions, 13-12, storming from behind with four goals in four minutes. Kia and Chico Moreira combined for nine Canton points. New G P. J. Johns had nine saves. The Spirit opened with a 13-8 win over the Chicago Power as newcomers Paul Wright, Dan O'Keefe and Rob Ukrop accounted for 11 points.

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