The next generation of Eisenhower boys soccer players will be led by the next generation of the Decker coaching family tree.
Former Eisenhower standout Matt Decker - son of veteran head coach Mike Decker - has been tabbed as the second head coach in the history of the Ike boys soccer program. The elder Decker stepped down last month after 14 seasons at the helm of the program. He led the Knights to 178 victories, 10 playoff appearances, three region championships and two District 10 Class A titles.
The new Eisenhower coach isn't ready to predict that kind of success, but is honored to take over for his father.
"Those are obviously big shoes to fill as he's the only coach the program has ever known," said Matt. "I don't feel like there's a big shadow to step out of, but he's definitely helped build the program into a great spot. He's made this transition to head coach extremely easy for me."
Matt certainly knows what being a part of the Knights' program means. He was a co-captain on Eisenhower's first D-10 championship team in 2005 and played three years of college soccer at Mount Union University (formerly Mount Union College).
His immediate goal is simple - keep the Knights' soccer program cemented in the same light it was in during his father's tenure as coach.
"That's number one. I want to keep Eisenhower as one of the strongest soccer schools in the district," said Matt. "We play in a very competitive league and another goal is to be competitive against those strong Erie schools. We lost some strong players to graduation, but have some young guys coming up through the ranks that are going to have to step in and help us stay in the mix. My biggest job as coach is to teach those younger guys what it takes to compete at their highest level."
The outgoing coach has no doubt that his son is the right man for the job.
"He has a long history with the program," said Mike. "Even before he was a player, he was chasing balls at practice and helping out at games. He's been a part of the program as long as I have honestly. He's passionate about the team and passionate about the sport.
"Above all, I think he will bring a new and youthful energy to the field. More than how often we won, I always took pride in how we won. We always played with good sportsmanship and character and I think he will continue to instill those qualities in the boys."
Mike has said he intends to be at many - if not all - of the Knights' games and he won't be alone. Matt's mother Carol will also be there cheering on her son and the Knights he leads into battle.
"I will be there," she said. "We love the sport and love the program and of course we want to support our son. "I think it's sweet that Matt gets to coach at his alma mater and be so involved with the sport he loves so much."
Carol also thinks that Matt taking over will help ease Mike's transition out of coaching.
"It's kind of a double dip," she said. "Matt has his Dad there for guidance and questions and Mike will still be able to be involved at that level so he doesn't feel like he's going out of the game 'cold turkey.'"
Despite losing several talented seniors from last year's team that finished 9-6-1, Matt is excited about the group of kids that will don the Blue and Gold in 2013.
"These guys are just tremendously hard workers," said Matt. "I volunteered the last couple of preseasons and they are a group that is eager to learn. As a coach, that's what you want most from your players. If they come out, work hard and give a great effort, that's all a coach can ask for. They have a great deal of potential."
Matt also acknowledges that challenges lie ahead. Perhaps the biggest of those challenges is the Knights' low numbers - at least compared to those of the opposition.
"We have a great deal of talent, but we don't have a great deal of numbers," said Matt. "The bench is only so deep and some of those schools we're going against have full varsity and JV teams while we are barely putting a varsity team on the field. But that can also be a positive. What we lack in depth, we make up for in our closeness as a team. You can really build a close unit when you don't have a lot of numbers."
Matt's biggest problem right now is the month of the year. With it only being April, the season is four months away and the new Ike coach is ready to get going.
"I can't wait," he said. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun. I want to keep what we have here going. We've had success in the past and I want to make that success part of our future as well."