Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
For Lucas Paulini, connections in the soccer community have allowed his relationship with the game to flourish. They led him to Richmond as a player, jump-started his coaching career and last month brought Paulini back to VCU as an assistant coach.
The Division II standout at Tusculum University transferred to VCU for his senior season in 2010 after men’s soccer assistant coach Brett Teach made his way to Richmond and brought Paulini along.
The move in competition levels and a new head coach on the sidelines were big changes for Paulini, who had his eyes on a professional soccer career after his collegiate career came to a close.
“I think it’s always good to have different coaches and add some pieces to your game from different people — which allowed me to play at the next level,” Paulini said.
In his lone season with the Rams, Paulini started all 19 games and brought experience to a roster with 18 new faces during coach Dave Giffard’s first season in Richmond. Paulini stepped into a leadership role right away, Giffard said, and was a key player in reshaping the team.
Paulini became the first Ram under Giffard to sign a professional contract, starting a tradition of almost 40 players to follow in his footsteps and sign contracts.
The Buenos Aires, Argentina, native played with the Atlanta Silverbacks and Richmond Kickers during his professional career. When his playing days finished, Paulini returned to Sports Backers Stadium as the director of operations for two seasons.
Paulini was able to use a connection he made during his senior year to secure his first full-time assistant position after serving on Giffard’s staff for two years. Paulini went to Houston Baptist University to work as an assistant under Dave Pratt, a former VCU assistant coach.
Working alongside Pratt, Paulini was able to recruit and have an increased role as an assistant, gaining a different experience than he did at VCU. Giffard knew Paulini would return.
“It was always in the plans for us that Luke would come back when that time came,” Giffard said.
It came this year when assistant coach Matt Canaday left Richmond to coach at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, a school near St. Louis.
The transition from Houston Baptist to VCU will be easier than a usual transition for an assistant, Paulini said, because of his decade-long relationship with Giffard and Teach.
“I know them very well and have been in contact with them since I left VCU,” Paulini said. “I know what they’re about, I know what they like and don’t like.”
Paulini is the first former VCU player under Giffard to become one of the two assistant coaches on his staff. Giffard said that was a factor in hiring Paulini as an assistant.
“The experience of having played here, having played for me, been on the receiving end and experienced what it’s like to be a student and a player here at VCU for us,” Giffard said.
Giffard said that Paulini will be able to connect with the players well because he was in their shoes at the same university with two of the same coaches. Paulini echoed the ability for the players to relate to him.
“They can relate to my path, and I think I was just like one of them a few years ago when I was going through the process,” Paulini said. “We had the same coaching staff and I had the same aspirations as some of these kids at VCU have right now.”
Paulini has had and worked with a multitude of different coaches during his career as a player and a coach, drawing different aspects of coaching from each individual. He said no coach is perfect, but Giffard and Teach left a lasting impression on him.
“I share with what they believe in, those are the things that I believe in as well,” Paulini said. “Those would be two that I would like to model my game and the way of seeing the game.”
Paulini’s career has brought him back to Richmond time and time again, and he says it’s “something about VCU” that keeps him coming back.
“It’s the sense of family that you get, not only from VCU and the VCU community but also from Richmond as a city,” Paulini said. “It’s something that drives me there every time I have the chance to go back.”
Paulini and the Rams will begin training in Richmond when the NCAA allows teams to practice to prepare for the season.