As a player, Franco Wakhisi played a key role in Winthrop's first Big South Conference soccer championship in 2002.
Wakhisi also played an instrumental part in championship number two in 2006. It was Wakhisi who got his longtime friend Saidi Isaac, who was looking to transfer from NAIA Park University, interested in Winthrop.
Winthrop coach Rich Posipanko's glad he did.
Isaac, a 5-8 senior forward, scored 17 goals in each of his first two seasons, and along with Daniel Revivo, led the Eagles to a 15-3-4 record and the Big South Conference regular-season and tournament titles in 2006.
Along the way, Isaac earned Big South player of the year honors. He's the BSC's preseason player of the year and a preseason College Soccer News All-American.
Isaac's friendship with Wakhisi started when they were growing up in Kenya.
"He was like my big brother," Isaac said. "We've always been very close."
The friends stayed in touch after Wakhisi left to pursue his soccer dreams in the United States, first at Harris Stowe College in St. Louis and then Winthrop, where he was an immediate impact player for Posipanko's Eagles.
Isaac said he still looks at Wakhisi, a volunteer assistant for the Eagles, as a big brother.
Ironically, Isaac's next goal will break a tie with Wakhisi and move him into fifth place on Winthrop's all-time goals scored list.
Isaac also went to Park because of another friendship.
"The assistant coach was from my hometown and there were a lot of international players on the team," he said.
Isaac enjoyed his soccer experience at Park, but the weather in Missouri was a different story. He also wanted to play at the NCAA level.
"It was too cold," Isaac said. "I saw snow for the first time, and I didn't like it."
So when Wakhisi called and told him about Winthrop and the climate in South Carolina, Isaac made what he called a no-brainer decision.
Isaac contacted Posipanko, who followed NCAA guidelines to sign Isaac, who led Park in scoring, was all-region and an NAIA All-American.
Like Wakhisi, Isaac had an immediate impact on Posipanko's program. The numbers and accolades over the first two years speak for themselves.
n 2007 Preseason All-America third team selection by College Soccer News
n Named to 2007 Hermann Trophy watch list, soccer's equivalent to the Heismann
n 2006 Big South Conference Player of the Year
n 2006 All-Big South first team selection
n Named to NSCAA/adidas All-South Atlantic first team
n Finished seventh nationally in points per game and ninth in goals per game
n Led Big South in points, goals and points per game
n Named to the 2005 All-Big South first team
n Named to the 2005 Big South All-Tournament Team
n Led the team and Big South in scoring with 39 points and 17 goals in 2005
n Scored five goals against Georgia Southern
Isaac calls the nomination for the Hermann Award a great honor but is quick to say that any individual awards come from the play of the entire team.
Twenty-nine players have been nominated. The field will be cut in November and the trophy will be awarded in January. Winning the award is based on individual and team success.
"In order for Saidi to get a sniff, he'll have to duplicate last season's numbers and we have to have another good season," Posipanko said.
Isaac's ability to score is sure to cause opposing coaches to adjust their defenses.
Should they choose to double team, that will leave another Eagle wide open. That strategy is akin to playing a man down.
If that's the case, Revivo will benefit once again. The 6-2 junior forward has scored 23 career goals, including three in the BSC championship game. That effort earned the all-conference player the tournament's MVP award.
"Daniel is a fine player in his own right," Posipanko said. "He had 13 goals last year, who could be our leading scorer this year.
"If Saidi wasn't here this year, Daniel would have been the preseason player of the year. If he has a season like he did last year, he'll be the preseason player of the year."
Isaac is optimistic about the Eagles' chances in the 2007 Big South Conference race.
"We have seven all-conference picks back and only lost three starters from last year," he said. "We have some good young players to step in.
"Everybody is on the same page, and if we stay focused we can have a very good year."
"Expectations are high because of last year," Posipanko said. "We have to worry about ourselves and not get caught up in the preseason hype."
That hype includes being ranked in three different polls, being picked number on in the BSC preseason poll and the accolades aimed at Isaac.
According to Posipanko, the Eagles have 15 players battling for starting spots.
"Right now we're trying to find the right combination and chemistry" Posipanko said.
Winthrop's other returning all-conference players are goalkeeper Patrick Mitrovich, defender Henry Kalungi, forward Stephen Nserko, defender John Gilkerson and forward Otto Loewy. Nserko was also the league's freshman of the year.
The Eagles open the season at 1 p.m. this afternoon against USC-Upstate in the Radford Invitational. Winthrop plays Binghamton at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
• Roster, schedule • 5D