The culmination of an approximately 15-year soccer career finds 21-year-old Ryan Parris in his final year at Acadia, and in a prominent role as a midfielder and team leader for the soccer Axemen.
In Bermuda, he used to play for both his school and a club team. Known as 'football' in Bermuda, as it is in much of the rest of the world, school football “is played in the fall, and club soccer for the rest of the year” except for July and August, which is one of many things Parris has had to adjust to here in Canada, where soccer is now pretty much a year-round sport.
Asked the similarities between soccer in Canada and in Bermuda, Parris said, “the biggest differences I've found are the speed and the physicality of the game. “
Football tends to be played at a slower pace in Bermuda, and “it's definitely not as rough a sport at home. Soccer here kind of reminds me of the English league. You need to be in a lot better shape.”
Parris knew he wanted to continue his education and obtain a business degree, so in his last year in high school he left Bermuda to attend a boarding school in Port Hope, Ontario.
“I got to experience one bad Ontario winter, which ended up being a 'warm-up' for here,” he said.
Having decided to enrol at a Canadian university, Parris also hoped he’d be able to play varsity soccer. He emailed Axemen head coach Findlay MacRae, asking if he could try out.
He also had a tryout with Algoma University in Ontario, but has “family ties” to Acadia - “six or seven of my family, including an uncle, his two children and a couple of other cousins, had all attended Acadia” - which helped make his final decision.
Parris arrived in Wolfville in the fall of 2014 prepared to be an Acadia student, but with “no guarantees” of being a varsity soccer player.
“I made the team my first year. I came off the bench for my first two games, but I've been a starter ever since,” he said.
He started his soccer career as a centre back, but at the start of high school, “moved up to midfielder,” and has remained there since.
“I like being in the middle of things, and in control,” he said, and the midfielder position, with its great versatility, has become a natural spot for him. “It's a very busy position. At the end of the game, you know you've been in a game.”
The Axemen have steadily improved during Parris's time with the team.
“My first year, we were fourth or fifth, then third. Last year, we were first in the regular season, lost to Cape Breton in the AUS final and made it to nationals.”
The entire season was “a real experience for me,” and the team's performance “a real achievement,” and definitely something to build on for this season.
Parris sees his role on the field as controlling the midfield on defense and “getting the ball up to the strikers” in transition.
“I like the feeling of controlling the ball,” he said. “You're able to control what happens next.”
He enjoys being part of a team.
“You come to rely on your teammates, and they rely on you,” he said. “Playing in the AUS final last year, and making it to nationals, was the highlight of my time here so far, maybe even the highlight of my entire career.”
The Axemen started the 2017 season with two wins, a draw and one loss in their first four games.
“The league as a whole definitely looks more competitive this season,” Parris said. “When I started here, UNB was the team to beat. Now there are five or six good teams, including us.”
All of them, he added, are good enough to contend for the conference title.
“Our goal for this season is to finish first again, and this time, win the conference final. It's redemption time for us,” he says.
The Axemen “lost a lot of our backline” to graduation, including AUS Player of the Year and All-Canadian Andrew Snyder, who both graduated and completed his five years of eligibility in 2016. Acadia, says Parris, has “some new players back there who are doing a decent job so far.”
Despite the loss of several key players from last season, Parris says the Axemen are arguably “better technically and skill-wise” than they were last season. The new defenders are showing good promise, and there are “a couple of good attackers as well.”
They still have some work to do, he added.
“We still need to jell as a group. Once that happens, we could be better than last year.”
He points to fifth-year striker Matt Berrigan as a strong leader up front and a team leader in general.
Parris is scheduled to graduate in May 2018 with his degree in business administration, with a major in finance. He will likely resist the temptation to return for a fifth season of soccer at Acadia.
“I came to Acadia as much for the business program as for the soccer, but I've been impressed with what a great all-round school Acadia is, both academically and athletically,” he added.
Next spring, though, won't be the end of his post-secondary education.
“I'd hope to go on to an MBA, then go back to Bermuda and get a job there. There are lots of openings back home in that field.”