While Cyprian Hedrick scored his first professional goal on Saturday, the comeback it sparked was by no means the first he was involved in at San Antonio FC.
The first came early in his SAFC career. He started in the 2017 season opener on March 26 away to Rio Grande Valley FC before coming off with an injury roughly half an hour in. Hedrick had to regain his fitness as well as somehow find a place in the best defense in the league. He worked his way back to feature in SAFC’s short-lived US Open Cup run and some USL matches, even if he had to shift over to right back sometimes, recovering respectably from the early setback.
Coming into 2018 though, Hedrick appeared to have fallen far down the pecking order in defense, to fourth or perhaps even fifth in line. He’d need a second comeback in SAFC colors, this one different from the first. He was given opportunities in SAFC’s first two Open Cup matches, but was excluded in the third, a 1-0 loss to FC Dallas. With the cup run over and him having not played a minute of SAFC’s USL campaign yet, it wasn’t crazy to think that might have been the end of his year – and perhaps career – with SAFC.
Quite on the contrary, it was just the beginning.
“What we saw with Cyp, especially a couple weeks before his opportunity, was every single day he was trying to be the best version of himself and try to apply the information he had been told (by us, the coaching staff),” said SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell. “When he had his opportunity, he took it and performed well and at this point in time he’s continuing to try and get better.”
A week and a half after being left out of the Open Cup match against FC Dallas, Hedrick started on the right side of a three-man backline against Sacramento Republic FC on June 16, taking the place of a suspended Darnell King. It ended up being arguably Hedrick’s best match in an SAFC shirt, and easily his most important.
“That one chance that I needed, I knew it was going to come, I prayed about it, I worked hard for it,” Hedrick recently said of getting his opportunity that night. “The fact that it came around is a testament to my hard work finally paying off and something going my way and just getting the opportunity – all of us, that’s all we ever pray for is just an opportunity to show what we can do, to show how we can help the team. I made the most of it (and) bought myself a little bit more time, and since then I’ve been fighting every day in practice, every game I’ve gone to play.”
Since his statement performance that night, Hedrick hasn’t missed a single minute of USL action for SAFC, playing 16 straight matches in defense, a run matched only by fellow defender Greg Cochrane – a player who everybody knows has rarely missed a minute for SAFC since its inception.
To play a lot is one thing, but to play well is another. Through 16 appearances, Hedrick leads SAFC in passing accuracy in his own half (93.8%) and trails only Charlie Ward for overall passing accuracy (86.5% compared to Ward’s 89.6%). Hedrick also leads SAFC with 26 blocks, a whole 10 more than the next highest. His good passing out of the back creates fewer problems for the team defensively, and when they are attacked, he’s not afraid to put his body on the line.
Although his performances have sometimes been overshadowed – goalkeeper Diego Restrepo performed admirably against Sacramento as well and Lance Laing’s attacking exploits as of late have drawn the spotlight – Hedrick is still appreciated for his contributions and has been recognized as an individual multiple times, including making the USL Team of the Week twice, in weeks 20 and 26.
By Hedrick’s own admission, none of this would have been possible if he hadn’t been able to keep a positive attitude through adversity, which he said everybody will face some form of in their life. As previously alluded to, Hedrick’s faith kept him motivated, and his family also provides a source of inspiration.
“I want to be a good role model and set an example for my daughters to follow,” Hedrick said. “Looking back, when they see daddy went through some hard times and some things didn’t go his way, he stayed on track, he kept working hard.”
Hedrick also credits his teammates for keeping his spirits up. Just as they build each other up though, there’s constantly healthy competition between them for playing time; Hedrick has worked hard this season to find himself on the winning side of that battle.
“Every day, regardless of his personal circumstances, (he) comes with a positive attitude, comes out here to hold high standards so he can give the best version of himself every day, which then drives (not only) him to get better but also drives others around him to get better and I think that’s what you want from professional players,” Powell said.
Hedrick said he’s trying not to get complacent and keeps the things that motivated him to fight back from adversity in the back of his mind so he can stay on top. He’s part of a team trying to keep on top of the fight for a spot in the playoffs, and he said the first part of that is finding motivation as individuals – like he did.