UVU soccer player stands his ground

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Defensive player Alex Neff makes his opponents work to get past him

Kyle McDonald  | Sports writer | @kylesportsbias

Gabi Campbell | Photo editor | @gabicampbellphotos

As an opposing soccer player attempting to score on the Utah Valley University men’s soccer team, you had better be ready for a challenge.  Alex Neff is a first team All-WAC defensive team member who is all about making players work in their attempt to score on him.  Soccer 9-13-15 by Gabi Campbell-6459

“Alex is a very physical player,” UVU men’s soccer head coach Greg Maas said. “His commitment to tackles really brings a spirit to the entire team.  It’s to become expected of him…he’s unabashed to go in on tackles…he always teeters right on the edge but that’s what great defenders do.”

Neff became a defender on his U17 team after hitting a growth spurt between his sophomore and junior seasons in high school.

“I was one of the biggest kids and you put the biggest kids on the back,” Neff said. “And I just kind of fell in love with the position. I loved getting down and doing the dirty work.”

One of the things that Neff has learned from playing the center back position is how to be a leader.  As a defender, Neff is the last line of defense between a team getting a shot on goal and possibly scoring.  It is a big responsibility and one that Neff doesn’t take lightly.

“You have to give it your all,” Neff said. “You’re the leader. The only person that can see more of the field than you is the goalkeeper. You have to coach up and lead the players in front of you.”

Maas knows how important Neff is as a leader and he knows that he is the catalyst of their defense.

“Alex Neff is a true leader for us on and off the field,” Maas said. “He wears that captain’s band for a reason. He’s a true warrior and someone that this entire team rallies around consistently throughout a match.”

Neff actually began his soccer career as a midfielder where he had the ball at his feet more.  He believes this gives him an advantage because he has more feel for the ball and where it is going to be, especially when trying to make a tackle.

“I grew up having pretty good ball-handling skills,” Neff said. “It is abnormal for a center back to have the touch on the ball that I do and I feel that has benefitted me as a defender. It puts me aside and I stand out from other defenders.”

Neff attended Northridge High School in Layton, where he excelled on the soccer field as he was named the TOSH Athlete of the Year and the Utah Youth Soccer Association Player of the Year in 2012.  He also honored his mother’s request that he play football and was the placekicker during his senior season.

“I was always hesitant to play football from getting injured,” Neff said. “My mom wanted me to play football so bad.  So I was like ‘fine I will make her happy.’

When he told his mom he was going to kick for the football team during his senior year, he was given his mom’s approval.Soccer 9-13-15 by Gabi Campbell-6528

“I tried not to kick a touchback,” Neff said. “I wanted to hit someone.”

Neff’s college career began at BYU where he played with its Premier Development League team for two seasons.

When UVU head coach Greg Maas came calling, it actually took Neff two months to get back to them on his decision.

“There was a lot of thinking,” Neff said. “A lot of talking with my parents, my family and peers about what was the right decision. I can honestly say that I made the right decision and I don’t regret it at all.”

The two-time WAC Defender of the Week in 2015 is the leader of a Wolverine defense that has only allowed five goals in eight games.  They led the WAC in goals against and were 18th nationally in 2014 and they hope to continue that this season.

“We take it personally on our back line,” Neff said. “We take a lot of pride in getting shutouts and having no goals against us. Not even shots on goal.”