By Timothy Belin, COM 311 Reporter
On November 11, 2019, the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) announced the Men’s Soccer All-Conference honorees for the season. Among them, earning second-team honors, was Berry College’s senior defender Henry Arato. Despite being a mainstay in the team’s starting lineup for all four years, this was the first recognition Arato received.
Senior forward Jake Williamson, who has played with Arato for all four years, said this was a mistake by those responsible for the awards.
“I personally think he was deserving of a lot more recognition than he got over the last four years,” Williamson said. “I think he should have gotten first team this year and at least first team and second team the last couple of years.”
Williamson attributed this oversight to Arato’s position, as offensive players or goalies are more likely to get recognition than center-backs according to him. Arato said he joked about the matter with head coach Richard Vardy and assistant coach Konrad Jacobs after his sophomore year. While he was still disappointed, he understood why it was that way.
“After my sophomore year I thought that was personally my best year, but that was probably the best team that we had, so all the good players around me just helped elevate my game,” Arato said. “I was kind of disappointed my sophomore and junior year that I didn’t get anything, but they got to recognize the better players on the team, so I wasn’t really hurt.”
Regardless of awards, Arato will still leave a legacy at Berry, as he holds the joint-record for most games played and is the outright holder of most starts for the team in the DIII era. Of the 72 games Berry played since his arrival in the fall of 2016, Arato played and started in 71.
The first game of Arato’s freshman season was a 2-1 victory at Covenant on Sept. 1 2016. Vardy said that, while Arato had impressed in pre-season, the decision to start him immediately was due more to necessity than anything else.
“A lot of college soccer is where opportunity meets being ready for the opportunity, and preparation,” Vardy said. “Some kids don’t get the chance because the opportunity’s not there at some given time, some kids the opportunity comes a year later when there’s an injury or a suspension or someone graduates. For Henry, some of it was being ready and being a good player and some of it was luck that we needed a left-back.”
Arato was a logical fit to take up the vacant position because he is naturally left-footed, something Vardy said the team has lacked over the years. For Arato, that first game was eye opening, as he said there is a limit to how well a player can anticipate what it is like in training. His first game also saw him pick up his first yellow card of the season, and though he does not recall that one specifically, Arato said he had to adjust his game in that first season.
“I don’t remember that, but I remember getting a few yellow cards my freshman year, having to tone it back,” Arato said.
While left-back is not his favored role, Arato’s performances were good enough for him to make the position his own. He went on to start in all 19 games Berry played that year, one of only four players to start every game, and the only freshman to do so.
Freshman midfielder Connor Davis, who is the first player to start every game his freshman year since Arato, said doing so requires an extremely high work ethic.
“You always got to work harder, you always got to do more to improve upon yourself, because that’s the only person you should be comparing yourself too,” Davis said. “And I see that in Henry, because he’s always going out to train.”
In his sophomore year, Arato then got the opportunity to move to his preferred center-back position after the graduation of one of previous holders of that role. He said doing so allowed him to grow as a leader on the pitch.
“That’s just a role where you have to be vocal and loud, because you see the entire team in front of you,” Arato said. “Being in that position made me take things more seriously. I knew people were listening to what I was telling them on the field and off the field, and doing that my sophomore year and junior year kind of helped me prepare to be a captain this year.”
Arato kept his streak going, starting all 17 games in both his sophomore and junior seasons, and became co-captain of the team for his senior year, alongside Williamson. Williamson said he saw this shared responsibility as a partnership, as each captain had their area to be in charge of.
“I think that we both took it in a little bit different of a way, and I think bounced off each other really well,” Williamson said. “He was a very good on the field captain, in the sense of in practice and in the games he is going to be the one who is pushing guys hard to play well and focus and do all the small things right. On my side, I was more of an overall leader, an overall captain, so I’d be texting a lot off the field about things to do. On the field, if we were in a drill, he would be the guy who would be in the moment, and I would be after the drill, pulling players to the side, and I think that balanced on each other really well.”
Vardy said Arato can have a very confrontational personality, but he saw him adapt this as he took on his new role with the team.
“I think he found a new way to communicate,” Vardy said. “He matured a little bit and tried to find a better way to communicate with the young guys. I think he adjusted his personality a bit.”
Davis said Arato’s leadership was a lot of tough love, but according to him it was necessary.
“There’s got to be some tough love, and he’s definitely not afraid to tell you you’re doing wrong, which is what you need to hear sometimes” Davis said.
Photos courtesy of Sports Information.
Off the field, however, is a different matter. Davis said Arato loves to goof around and make jokes, and Williamson said there is a clear difference between his two personalities.
“His personality is super fun and I love hanging out with Henry off the field,” Williamson said. “But when we get to the field and it’s time for soccer, that’s when the switch flips and he’s focused and driven and composed and wants everyone to be the same way. Over the past four years we’ve hung out outside of soccer a ton, and that’s been super fun, but then I’ve been able to see him, as soon as we get to the field, become a great leader and one that will push a lot of guys on the team to want to work a lot harder.”
Arato’s senior year also saw him move into yet another position, as Vardy played him in midfield. This led to an increase in attacking returns, as he notched four goals for the season, more than in his previous three combined. One of those goals came on senior day against Birmingham Southern College (BSC). Berry won that game 5-1, and for Arato it was the perfect day.
“It was just cool,” Arato said. “Jake had a hat-trick up until that point and then he ended up being the one that assisted me, so up until that point the only people that were really involved in any of the goals were the two seniors, on senior day. And I had a bunch of family come out, come up to the game. They got to see me score, which was very rare.”
Williamson shared in the elation at the team’s senior day performance and said he could not have been happier for his teammate.
“That was awesome,” Williamson said. “That was a really cool day. That was probably one I won’t forget. His goal in particular was a fantastic goal. Henry’s a very strong left-footed player, but someone crossed the ball in the box and I took a touch and passed it to him and he was running on to it probably about fifteen yards away from the goal and hit it with his right foot one-time and bent it in the corner. That was a really awesome goal, that was a great finish, but it was also super exciting to get to combine, and for him to score on senior day was really special. I think I was more excited about his goal than any of mine, that was so awesome.”
Vardy described it as a perfect day. He said that in soccer, as with most other sports, there are good days and bad days, and that game was firmly in the category of the former. A few weeks later, however, was definitely a bad day. Playing the final game of the regular season against Oglethorpe University, Arato picked up a yellow card, his fifth of the season. NCAA rules state than any player who gets five yellow cards is automatically suspended for the next game, and, as this was the last regular season outing, Arato found himself forced to sit out Berry’s first-round playoff game against Rhodes College. His Berry career had begun with a yellow card four years earlier, and it seemed like another yellow card might have just ended it.
“He got unlucky,” Vardy said. “The ball hit his hand in a play, it wasn’t like he was being stupid, he wasn’t arguing, he wasn’t doing bad tackles, the ball just hit his hand and the referee gave him a yellow card, and we were all deflated. It was a frustrating day, knowing that that was potentially his last game for Berry.”
Williamson said matters were not helped by the contentious nature of the referee’s decision, but he was impressed with Arato’s on-field response.
“I know Henry well because we’ve played together the last four years, so I could tell that he was upset, but he didn’t show it for all the fans and all the players and everyone to see, which I think it a very mature thing,” Williamson said. “After the fact we were both pretty frustrated about it and upset about it, but in the moment I think he handled it really well.”
Davis agreed with this assessment and said he was impressed with his captain’s reaction.
“He was actually very accepting of it,” Davis said. “We were all upset for him because he couldn’t play [the next game] and we knew how much that was for him, but he took responsibility. I was surprised by that and respectful of it. He didn’t try to make excuses.”
For a while it seemed that the Oglethorpe game would be his last in a Berry shirt, as Rhodes took a 2-0 lead early in the second half of the first-round playoff game. However, Williamson responded with a hat-trick, netting the equalizer in the 85th minute before grabbing the winner in overtime to ensure his friend would get to end the season on his own terms.
“I think the happiest person at Berry that day was Henry, knowing he had at least one more game to play and he could finish his career on the field rather than the bench,” Vardy said.
The suspension ended up being only a minor hiccup in his career, and Henry returned to the field for Berry’s final game of the season, a 2-1 defeat against Oglethorpe. Arato started one last time and scored Berry’s only goal of the game to go out with a flourish rather than a whimper. And with 71 appearances and starts for Berry, he looks set to have a place in the program’s history books for years to come.
“It’s honestly very cool,” Arato said. “It’s not something I was really chasing after, I would just show up to play every game, never got hurt, so I did that for four years and turns out to be that that also came along with it, that prestigious recognition.”