The intensity of a 1994 World Cup soccer match sunk into Brandon Gilliam’s bones as he took his seat in the Cotton Bowl stadium at Dallas.
As a 9-year-old, it was all a dream come true. The scent of fresh-cut grass from the soccer field filled the air. A sea of red and green fans waving Bulgarian and Nigerian flags covered the stadium.
The Bulgarian and Nigerian national teams marched in an orderly fashion onto the field to begin the match. They played the teams’ national anthems as fans sang along. It was from that point on Gilliam knew he wanted to become a professional soccer player.
His childhood dreams of marching out on the field surrounded by chanting fans as a professional soccer player didn’t go exactly as planned, and Gilliam said that’s okay. Gilliam was recently appointed as the new BYU men’s soccer coach.
Growing up in Texas, Gilliam was immersed in soccer culture. He and his older brother often competed in the backyard playing soccer for hours at a time, helping each other’s personal skills improve.
His older brother decided to attend BYU and ended up walking onto the soccer team his freshman year. It was then that Gilliam made a decision that further enhanced his dreams.
“Serving a mission and going to BYU wasn’t a thought,” Gilliam said. “And then my brother came here and I saw him win the national championship in Alabama and that’s when I decided I wanted to come here.”
Gilliam was eventually recruited as a goalkeeper in 2002 for BYU and as a result, passed up multiple offers from Division I and Division II schools competing for his attention.
He was a staple in the Cougars’ defense, starting all four years between the posts. BYU had very little competition in the club league they were playing in when Gilliam first arrived.
“When we were in club, it was a fun atmosphere winning games 8-0,” Gilliam said. “It was fun, we had fans, but we were not being developed as players. It wasn’t worth it to be playing at this level as a college player.”
In 2003 BYU men’s soccer made the decision to take the club into the Premiere Development League (PDL), a semi-pro soccer division — the same division that BYU plays in today.
“At the PDL we never have an easy game,” Gilliam said. “It’s a hard league.”
Gilliam excelled in the league, and in 2008, his senior year, he was ranked as the best keeper in the league. Gilliam’s dedication and perseverance to become a professional soccer player paid off when he trained with Real Salt Lake consistently and, as recent as last year, played with the Real Monarchs.
However, his dreams changed. The professional life wasn’t quite as glamorous as he hoped, and after he graduated and got married, he was offered an assistant coaching job at BYU under former head coach, Chris Watkins.
“I was capable of stepping aside from soccer when I got married,” Gilliam said. “I was comfortable at that time stepping away from that dream and starting to be a coach. I achieved my old dreams.”
The new dream didn’t end there. Once Watkins stepped down as head coach, Gilliam was appointed as the new BYU men’s head coach because of his expertise and previous experience playing at BYU.
“It is comforting for me because we are in a unique situation as a university,” Jake Miles, returning junior on the team, said. “I think it is cool because he knows how the (Premiere Development League) works and how the university works which I think will give us the best opportunity to be successful.”
Gilliam’s new dream is surrounded by soccer. Not only does he coach the men’s team, but he also owns two other businesses. Both of his businesses, Better Goalkeeping Academy and World Sports Partners, focus on the development of youth soccer for kids who want the opportunity.
“I noticed that there are a lot of kids who just have dads as volunteer coaches and they don’t get any real coaches,” Gilliam said. “Our model is to help the kids who basically are wanting to do something with soccer, but don’t have the resources.”
With running two businesses and becoming the men’s soccer head coach, Gilliam eats, drinks and breathes soccer.
“He doesn’t do things halfheartedly,” Nicole Gilliam, his wife, said. “He puts all of his effort into it. He puts so much love into the game. And now for him to be able to coach and continue to work with soccer, it really feels like a blessing.”
Gilliam’s hopes for this next season are already in effect as he conducted tryouts for the team earlier than in previous years. His plans include a lot of change for the team in order to fit the style of play he is looking for.
“It’s not like I disagree with what happened beforehand, but every coach has a vision of how they see things,” Gilliam said. “You can win games with a lot of different styles and the way I want to win is different from the past. Consistency, organization and player development are the three areas I want us to be sharpest at and everything will come as we play.”
Although Gilliam never played professional soccer, he is still achieving his dreams.
“It’s a new dream,” Gilliam said. “I am living the dream.”