To the casual soccer fan, he’s just another senior being called up to the line as a starter. But if you knew the road defender Jake Weiss took to earn his place on the field, the role carries a much greater weight for No. 16.
After being cut from the men’s soccer team following his freshman year, Weiss worked his way back onto the squad in the fall of 2013 and is now a member of the starting lineup.
“I think that’s what makes him special. He’s really fought through. Most kids, when they get into normal school life after being cut from a team or not making a team, I think they just fall into the normal habits of a student and maybe they lose that edge to be competitive,” UCF men’s soccer head coach Bryan Cunningham said. “I think what makes Jake special is that he was able to put all that on the side. He came out to all of our games even though he wasn’t on the team, and he just grew as a person.”
Weiss only logged three minutes in a victory over North Florida his first season as a Knight in 2011. Once the spring of Weiss’ freshman year had come to a close, UCF’s young soccer player was unsure of his status as a member of the team. By the end of the season, Cunningham and his staff eventually made the tough decision that Weiss had felt coming.
“We actually cut him from the roster,” Cunningham said. “After the spring of 2011, he just really wasn’t where he needed to be. We didn’t see the development and the commitment from Jake at the time. He was young, very intelligent and a good player in high school and with his club team, but he was finding the balance of being a great student [and] at the same time, trying to compete on a Top-25 team.”
The decision, regardless of his gut feeling, still resonated with shock. Weiss hadn’t expected that his coach would actually cut him from the sport he had played his entire life. He said that he had tried several sports when he was younger, from football to baseball, but it was soccer that truly hooked him.
“I just loved soccer,” Weis said. “I loved running around. Soccer is very active and you have to be aware for 90 minutes. It’s a lot more fun for me.”
For Weiss, it was his love for the game that motivated him to continue to work. He trained on his own, playing state cup with an under-19 squad, and he continued to excel in the classroom with a sickening work ethic to perform at the highest level.
“I have a 3.99,” Weiss said. “I got an A- in economics freshman fall. It still gets me mad all the time. I got a 92 and an A was a 93. It just irritates me, but nothing I can do about it now.”
But even as he rallied off impressive grades and worked at staying active, Weiss still found it rough watching friends and roommates leave to go to practice.
“I missed it. I missed waking up and training every day. Going to class, everyone can do that but not everyone can say they played a college sport at a high level,” Weiss explained. “It was something that motivated me. Plus my roommates motivated me because they were always going out and training and traveling to the games. I missed that, it was always fun.”
Cunningham told Weiss to use his time away from the team to improve, to get better and to prove that he belonged. So, he did just that and hustled to develop his skills as a soccer player. Weiss was determined to return to the sport he loved.
“He came by the office and asked for an opportunity to try out again, and it was actually pretty seamless. He fought his way back onto the team,” Cunningham said. “He was fitter, he was stronger, and I think he was in a better place mentally. I think he was a lot more mature, and ever since then he’s blossomed into a player that we can depend on.”
Through his undeterred perseverance and mental toughness, Weiss has now developed into a consistent contributor for UCF and is currently holding on to a starting job for the Knights. The team depends on Weiss to deliver on the field, and it has been his overall reliability as a teammate that has set him apart.
“He really wanted to make a point and prove that he could not only be on this roster but also contribute,” Cunningham said. “You can count on him. As a head coach, that’s what you want. You want players who are consistent and you know what you’re going to get out of them every single time. I think that speaks to Jake and his attitude and his determination.”
Weiss has woven his determination from the field with his efforts in the classroom and as graduation approaches in December, he is looking forward to applying to UCF’s industrial organizational PhD program.
“This is where I want to go,” Weiss said. “I’d like to be able to work with businesses and consulting with employee selection and motivation with workers, and also be able to help businesses run more efficiently.”
For the time being, Weiss is focused on helping the Knights return to the NCAA Tournament, a homecoming of sorts as the Knights made the Big Dance his freshman season when they were knocked out of the second round by rival USF. For Weiss, this would truly mean coming full-circle.
He is the only player during Cunningham’s seven-year tenure at UCF who has fought his way back after being cut from the team.
“We all have our troubles in life and our pitfalls if you will, and it’s how you recover from that. Can you persevere and fight your way through it?” Cunningham said. “I think that’s Jake.”