Napper drafted by hometown club (Men’s Soccer)

Nina Mandell

Considering he had just become the first player in the history of Northwestern soccer to get drafted into Major League Soccer, senior Brad Napper is looking pretty relaxed sitting in Norris watching the Flyers’ hockey game Saturday morning, still wearing his Northwestern soccer jacket.

The Football Club of Dallas gear hadn’t quite arrived yet.

But he will be sporting it, or at least practicing around people sporting it, starting Tuesday when the defender and two-year captain heads to Dallas for a team physical.

The supplemental draft was Thursday. Training starts Wednesday. Final cuts are March 1. The first overseas trip to Spain and Italy is March 2.

“It’s going to be tough competition,” Napper said. “Seven guys competing for three spots, so it will be real tough getting on the roster. But it’s such a great opportunity and I can’t wait to get down there.”

For Napper, this is the penultimate step to a two-year-old dream come true.

The Dallas native has played soccer since he was three or four, but grew up in a country where soccer was never a big deal. A pro league didn’t exist until 1995, young soccer fanatics followed European teams but professionals were always an ocean away.

The MLS championships, despite drawing increasingly larger and rowdier crowds, still don’t usually make it on network television or the front page of the sports section. The supplemental draft itself is only two years old, an addition to help the newly expanded rosters.

“I never followed the MLS until college,” he said.

But knowing he had a better shot at being successful at soccer, in ninth grade Napper gave up basketball to focus on his main sport.

Four years later he was on scholarship to a team that NU coach Tim Lenahan said he sold him more on the family aspect of the team than the team’s record. No one recruited by NU then could have legitimately been thinking the Wildcats were a team that would lead to the pros.

When Napper came in 2002, NU hadn’t won a Big Ten game for two years, and couldn’t break that streak during his first season at NU.

“He’s competitive,” Lenahan said. “We wanted to do what no one expected us to do.”

The pro dreams came two years later with a standout junior year. The Cats upset No. 1 Indiana, he was named All-Conference and scored seven goals. Two more goals senior year would give him the most goals scored by a d fender in Big Ten history.

After that junior year, he joined the Chicago Fire’s summer development league, a springboard for many players that turned pro the next year. The team practiced five days a week with matches on Saturdays. Lenahan said he came back with the confidence that he could compete on the highest level.

“It was really great to play with those guys,” Napper said. “They’re some of the best in the country.”

The sociology major also took extra classes to make sure he could graduate a semester early. Now he’s hoping for cooperation between his professors and FC Dallas to graduate in March.

“Graduating is mandatory,” he said. “Mandatory for coach, mandatory for my parents.”

Napper also has some ideas for what he’s going to do when he’s done playing. No matter what, a chance with FC Dallas gives him an opportunity to meet the people that can help him get into sports marketing – the career path he planned on before the MLS came knocking, now a backup plan that can ease the stress of the cutthroat competition to survive in the pros.

“It’s going to be a business down there,” Napper said. “There’s not going to be the same chemistry and camaraderie among the team (that we have at NU). People are fighting for their lives.”

But this week, he’s hoping for now that the marketing career can be put on hold.

“I think it’s something that I have a chance to do and I want to give it a shot,” he said. “I’m usually all about working hard, not trying to do anything fancy, just get down there and catch on to the program.”

Reach Nina Mandell at [email protected]