Four of First Presbyterian Christian Academy’s starting varsity soccer players signed scholarships Friday afternoon to play for Point University in West Point, Ga. FPCA’s Domonique Kirkley, Clark Sukaratana, Ricky Gilliard and Tyler Cause committed to the same college.
The Skyhawks assistant soccer coach, Jimmy Webb, said the event presented a unique opportunity. Having four players from the same high school all sign together to play at the same college doesn’t happen often.
“I’ve been doing some research on the guys who have been a part of the all-state program at the private school and Georgia Independent School Association level, and I got in touch with coach Tom (Sukaratana) … came down and watched his team play,” Webb said. “I really liked what I saw. It would be amazing to get one of those guys, but to get all four and have that core of guys that have been playing together for six or seven years — it’s just great for our program.”
Webb said the FPCA boys will transition easily into Point, a private Christian college that embodies many of the same principles as FPCA. He said Highlander coach Tom Sukaratana shares the same coaching philosophy he and head coach Saulo Franca have for their Skyhawk squad. He added coach Sukaratana deserves the credit for laying a solid foundation with these four players.
“They are very young, but they play very well together,” Webb said. “It is hard to get guys to come in and mesh well, but for them to have already been playing together for this long is great.”
The Skyhawks compete in the NAIA and also are in the National Christian College Division 1 Conference. Franca and Webb took over the program about two seasons ago and won only four games. Last year, they went 11-9-1 and made it to the semi-finals of the Appalachian Conference Tournament.
They lost to Bryan College, which ended up being the tournament champion.
“He has been playing soccer from the age of three until now,” said Kimuel Gilliard, Ricky Gilliard’s mother. “It means a whole lot I am excited and I am happy for him, just overjoyed.”
Gilliard said her son will do just fine “as long as he continues to put God first.”
Gilliard is happy about playing soccer at the next level while remaining in state, near family.
“I won’t be completely by myself,” he said. “The campus has a nice atmosphere … it is just a nice place.”
Gilliard plans to study sociology.
The foursome doesn’t mind the competition they likely will face for starting spots at college.
“Some of us play in different positions but it will still be fun playing with them and passing with them and competing for a starting spot,” said Clark Sukaratana, who added that his father has been his only coach and instructor. Sukaratana plans to study exercise science and, like his dad, become a high-school coach and youth mentor.
“It’s going to be different playing for someone other than my dad next year,” Sukaratana said. “I want to thank my dad for bringing me all the way up to this moment. Without him, I wouldn’t be here.”
Clark Sukaratana’s mom, Debra, said, “I feel blessed because not many people can say they’ve had their child be coached by their father. … It just came naturally. He was never pushed into the sport. He just gravitated to it, and it’s what he’s always wanted to do. He has never said he would rather play or be coached by someone else.”
“I’ve never been in this position before,” Tom Sukaratana said. “When I usually speak, it’s on behalf of the kids as athletes, but he is my kid, my child. I taught him everything he knows about soccer and how to be ready for life, and I hope that what I taught him will help him be successful.”
Clark Sukaratana’s teammate and close friend, Domonique Kirkley, also plans to study exercise science.
“When Clark committed, we talked about it and I always wanted to go to school with one of my good friends, so that made the final decision easier,” Kirkley said.
Like his teammates, Kirkley excels at more than one sport at FPCA. His athletic abilities have earned him starting positions on the varsity basketball and soccer teams. He thinks that competing for a starting spot in college is something he’ll have to adjust to.
“It’s something I’m not used to. I’ve always been a starter,” he said.
His mother, Leilani Sykes, has no doubt that her son will make an immediate impact on his college’s soccer squad.
“He fell in love with the sport,” she said, “especially with everything that happened with Ernie (Walthour). Ernie also came and saw him play and he was really impressed and surprised at how good and how quick he took on the game. I think Tom and Ernie are both proud of him.”
Walthour, Kirkley’s high school and AAU basketball coach, was killed during an apparent armed robbery in July 2013.
For April and Jimmie Causer, it was the second time they watched one of their sons sign a soccer scholarship. A few years ago, they celebrated Wesley Causer’s achievements, but on Friday, it was Tyler Causer’s turn to step into the limelight.
“It’s a little bit of mixed emotions,” April Causer said. “It’s his next step … at least he has somebody there that he has played with.”
Jimmie Causer said he was proud.
“You know he did all the work,” he said.
Causer plans to major in criminal justice and added that knowing his current teammates will be on campus is beneficial. As for competing, he said, “It’s just another day on the soccer field.”