With mud scuffs on his practice shirt and a blonde curl in his hair, UTD men’s soccer goalkeeper was made for the game.
A Houston native, mechanical engineering senior Stephen Nicknish grew up playing sports like baseball and soccer as a child. He credits his sports-loving father for introducing him to baseball since he was a pitcher in college.
However, it was soccer that stole Nicknish’s heart.
“(From baseball) I kind of broadened my outreach,” he said. “I joined my friend’s team when we were 7 years old and I just got hooked on it.”
Although baseball was fun, save for batting, soccer was just the sport he was looking for with the constant activity and motion involved, Nicknish said.
While he used to play defense when he was younger, being UTD’s soccer goalie is what Nicknish is really passionate about. There is a lot of technique that goes into being a goalie and there is a different side of conditioning to it than other positions, he said.
“My dad always told me that I had to do whatever it took to get that ball — bite, teeth, claw, whatever it took. If the ball hits off your face, you made the save,” Nicknish said.
Although his father pushed him to be the best soccer player, Nicknish said he was lucky to have supportive parents.
“I love my dad,” he said. “He and my mom have supported me throughout my entire soccer career. They’ve always encouraged me. They’ve never been negative.”
Admittedly getting scored on is one of his least favorite things, Nicknish said, but his dad was always there to brush off failure and encourage better play.
Although America’s traditional pastimes include football and basketball, Nicknish sees soccer’s popularity rising with the creation of Major League Soccer in 1993 and the increase of viewership during World Cup soccer.
Nicknish’s favorite soccer teams include Manchester United and Arsenal. More than just following their scores, their style of play and their passion is what he really follows, Nicknish said.
“I’ll watch and see how their professional goalkeepers react to certain situations to help me in my play,” he said.
Truly dedicated to his art, Nicknish’s favorite goalkeeper is now retired goalie Oliver Kahn, who played for Germany’s national team in Bayern Munich.
“The biggest things in soccer is having that fundamental foundation, and Oliver Kahn had that,” he said. “He was good, but more than that, he would make spectacular saves while keeping fundamentals solid.”
Nicknish said his team’s dynamic is all about working together to get the win.
“We goof around some, but when it comes game time, we’re serious,” he said. “There’s a lot of positive reinforcement as we’ve matured into understanding constructive criticism and what we each need to work on.”
Nicknish said he’s pretty hard on himself and has to work on not letting it affect his play. Soccer is all about keeping focused, relaxed and calm, he said.
“But I love this team and the coaches,” he said. “All these guys are like my second family.”
When not playing soccer, Nicknish participates in Crossfit workouts and enjoys being outside fishing, hunting and being with his dogs. He looks to find a job to stay in Dallas after graduation and is hoping to join a local semi-professional soccer team.