First man here, last man back

Photo by Lonna King

As the Utah Valley University men’s soccer team climbs the national rankings and aims for redemption in the Western Athletic Conference Championship, Alex Neff protects the back line, looking for any opportunity to make his presence known.

When the UVU program was first assembled in 2013, Neff was one of its original players. A freshman with BYU’s Premiere Development League team at the time, Neff received a text message from a mentor regarding the inception of a Division I team at UVU.

Now a volunteer assistant on the Wolverines’ staff, coach Eric Landon made sure Neff was aware of the opportunity to play DI soccer with UVU. As a result, Neff reached out to UVU head coach Greg Maas and received an invitation to join the team.

“I had a lot going on and so I think I didn’t get back to him I think for two months,” said Neff. “I had to talk with my family and my friends, and things like that, and just see what was the best thing and what I wanted to do with my life.”

Since arriving at UVU, Neff has put his mark on the back end of the Wolverines’ defense. As a sophomore, Neff led a UVU defense that finished the season first in the WAC and 18th in the nation by allowing an average of 0.75 goals per game. He has also been named All-WAC First Team twice and NSCAA All-West Region First Team as a junior.

Despite the accolades, Neff is still young at the defensive position. He was not moved to defender until he was 17 years old, but fell in love with the position and took to it naturally.

“[I] started playing defense because I was one of the bigger guys,” said Neff. “They’re going to throw the bigger guys back there, so I just kind of developed there, just kind of fell into it. Ever since then I just loved the idea of being a defender. You’re the last man back, everyone counts on you. They trust you with the ball; you can’t lose the ball or they’re going to score.”

Neff’s favorite part of playing defense? Tackling, of course.

“Just getting in and winning the ball, setting the tone of the game, letting the other team know you’re here for business,” said Neff.

Though he defends the back line with a nose for the ball and physical play, Neff can still take advantage of opportunities to make his way upfield. Neff scored his first goal of the 2016 season in a 3-0 win Sept. 11 over the Northern Illinois Huskies when he redirected a header from Skyler Milne off his own head into the net.

A senior studying exercise science, Neff plans to pursue a soccer career after his time at UVU is complete. With no particular playing destination in mind, Neff will attend the MLS combine in January then enter his name in the MLS SuperDraft.

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