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On Target

Soccer Season All in the Family for O’Keefes

Archers head coach Dan O'Keefe, left, and his freshman son, Culan.
Archers head coach Dan O'Keefe, left, and his freshman son, Culan.

Culan O’Keefe darts toward the offensive third of the field, receives a pass from a midfielder, and heads up field with no defender in sight, only to hear a whistle blowing the play dead. He’s offsides. As he retreats back up field, O’Keefe can hear a series of audible corrections from his father—in and of itself, not an uncommon event in junior college soccer.

Except for O’Keefe, those corrections come from the sideline and not the stands, as his dad is St. Louis Community College head coach Dan O’Keefe.

Such is the norm in a typical game for the Archers’ head coach and talented freshman forward. The Archers’ head coach pushes, prods, needles, exhorts and encourages his son before, during and after games, and makes no argument over the notion of expecting a little bit more from him than his other players. Coach O’Keefe, who is also wary of the perception that he may give some level of favorable treatment to his son, makes a point of proving the opposite.

“I’m harder on him, because I know what he’s capable of,” Dan O’Keefe said. “It’s difficult for him that he has to practice that much harder and play that much harder just to prove he doesn’t have preferential treatment. I don’t know if that crosses his mind, but for him to play, I have to make sure he’s doing everything he needs to do.”

Playing for your dad in youth leagues could prove to be difficult enough, with playing time, practice treatment and leadership roles all scrutinized by teammates and parents. Rarely do you see such a scenario at the collegiate level.

“I get a lot of criticism, but I’m used to it at this point,” said Culan O’Keefe, who, prior to high school, also played for his dad at multiple youth levels. “He’s been my coach for a long time.”

For his part, Culan O’Keefe has proven to be a productive player at the collegiate level, scoring three goals despite appearing in just nine games this fall, tied for third-most behind sophomores Tolga Bolen and Ryan Sanfilippo.

That production hasn’t kept the elder O’Keefe from holding his son to a high standard on the field. Culan O’Keefe’s teammates have gotten used to the drill. While all players will have to answer for their mistakes, repercussions may be a bit more evident for Culan.

“If Culan does something wrong, he’ll get corrected right away,” said freshman forward Edwin Butler. “With the other players, he doesn’t know them quite as well and it may be a one-time mistake. With Culan, he expects a lot more because he knows exactly what he can do.”

But the familiarity does not necessarily always translate to punishment for the younger O’Keefe’s on-field mistakes. By having an acute awareness of his son’s ability on the field, Dan O’Keefe’s job of putting players in a position to succeed becomes a much easier task.

When in the lineup, Culan O’Keefe has shared time with Sanfilippo and Bolen at the forward position, giving the Archers multiple capable scoring options in the offensive third of the field.

“He has good speed, he turns with the ball well, and he has a knack for scoring goals,” Dan O’Keefe said. “Most of the stuff the team is trying to do is funneling the ball to him and Tolga. In a way, I really need him to perform well (now).”

You’ll have to pardon Dan O’Keefe if his expectations seem high for someone who is a first-year college player. Soccer talent is in no short supply in the O’Keefe family, starting with Dan, who played for four years at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville for four years before a 10-year professional indoor career that concluded in 1995.

While that level of performance would be difficult for any player to live up to, Culan O’Keefe has shown the tools to be a productive player at the collegiate level. You can be sure his coach won’t allow that talent to go to waste. For Culan, who still lives with his dad in the family’s Florissant residence, there is no escaping extra preparation.

“He’s the type of player you have to stay on,” Dan O’Keefe said. “He’s a two-year project with me. He has to form habits. If we have a weekend off, I’m around to tell him he has to go to the track and make sure he has to put the work in.”