By Jill Ivie
BYU”s starting goalie Erik Walunas” work ethic of sacrifice and training is fundamentally rooted in his sense of self. His passion is his vitality. He is the last line of defense standing between the best players in the Premier Development League and the Cougar goal.
“When I was in sixth grade, we were trading off positions,” Walunas said. “I think I dove in and made a save and they asked me to stay. I was too young to realize anything else. Since then I grew to love it, and it has become a part of me. You could say I”m passionate about it.”
Walunas” soccer history began when he was a child playing competitive club soccer and continued when he spent a year playing for the Olympic Development Program in Oregon.
From his home in Wilsonville, he grew up training with the goalkeeping coaches from the University of Portland. He also trained under Greg Maas, the director of club soccer in Lake Oswego before he became the current technical director of soccer for the state of Utah.
In 1999, Walunas met BYU head coach Chris Watkins at a tournament in Phoenix. The meeting led to Walunas” first break.
“I wanted to go to BYU but I didn”t know anything about their soccer program,” Walunas said. “So I did look around at other schools. Once I started to learn more about the program, I became very interested.”
Walunas joined the Cougars in the fall of 1999, ignoring interest from the University of San Francisco. BYU was still operating under the Collegiate Club division at the time.
“The club title meant nothing to us,” Walunas said. “Although we carried the title of a club team, the players, talent and mentality of the team is that we are all very competitive. We know we belong playing against the best Division I schools in the United States.”
Walunas left in the winter of 2000 to serve in the Santiago Chile East Mission.
He returned to play for BYU in the winter of 2002, where he was able to split time with the latest addition to the BYU goalkeeping staff, his younger brother Ben.
“Craziness must run in the family,” Walunas said.
The support of his family has proved paramount in Walunas” soccer career.
“I love to play when my parents are watching,” Walunas said. “It is my biggest thrill. They were the ones that bought me my first pair of cleats. They were the ones that let me ride in the car when I was muddy and wet after my games in Oregon.”
Early influences in the values that now dominate his life and soccer career are traceable back to his parents.
“My dad has always been very supportive about finding something in my life that can push me to learn about myself and other people,” Walunas said. “Soccer was that chosen opportunity for me.”
During his two years of playing for BYU, Walunas has come to recognize the unique benefits the university offers him both on and off the field.
“It has helped me so much to learn about work ethic and discipline and how to handle yourself when you are representing BYU, and how to handle yourself when the other team is playing dirty,” Walunas said. “Soccer is life and such a huge part of society around the world. Traveling with BYU gives others the opportunity to see us and know us. Our chance to love them through different opportunities is very valuable.”
Walunas teaches Spanish at the MTC and plans to pursue a degree in sociology. He also plans to keep soccer as an integral part of his life after his college career ends.
“I think there is a lot people can gain from sacrificing and training,” Walunas said. “I”ll leave the competitive playing behind, but training goalkeepers will definitely be a part of my life.”
Walunas dislocated his finger during halftime warmups in a game against the Fresno Fuego June 6, and will be out for a few weeks.