COLUMBIA — Becoming Missouri’s club lacrosse coach was a journey that started at the Mobil gas station nearby Keith Euker's old home in Columbia, Md.
After filling up his Toyota 4runner, Euker needed to pay. He noticed two men standing by a car next to his own, and as he walked back to his car, one of them stopped him with a question.
“Are you a coach?” the man asked.
Euker hadn’t thought much about the question before. He loved sports. He played football in high school and lacrosse in college. But he had never coached before.
Caught off guard, Euker said “No.” But realizing only two days had passed since accepting a job as an assistant varsity golf coach at the Boys Latin School of Maryland, he fixed his reply.
“Actually, I am,” Euker said.
The curious man wasn’t surprised that Euker was a coach or that he had been an athlete. After all, Euker was an all-metro lacrosse player and a good enough quarterback to have played in college, his father, Carl Euker, said. Keith Euker was the one surprised by the conversation.
At that point in life, he felt like he was far from a coach. He worked at a technology company called DP Solutions full time, but his work hours were lenient. It certainly wasn’t the $500 that he would be paid to be an assistant coach that enticed him. He was mainly trying to help a friend.
As he began to walk away, Euker stopped. He needed to know why the man asked him this question.
“Because you look like a coach,” the man said.
The answer shook Euker. He felt pride in being called a coach. But he was used to being a boss, not a coach. Rattled, he got back into his car. The words had hit hard. He didn’t know if he was meant to be working in an office environment.
“It was one of the strangest things that’s ever happened to me. But it couldn’t have happened at a better time in my life,” Euker said.
Some people are meant to be coaches, Euker said. It took 10 years for him to realize he was meant to be a leader somewhere outside of his business. When he coached the golf team, his parents noticed it too. Carl Euker said it was something that seemed to work for Keith Euker, and that he “just seemed to be bent in that direction.”
“This is something he should’ve been doing a long time ago,” Carl Euker said. “He loves to work with kids, and this is what he knows the most about.”
Keith Euker pulled away from the Mobil gas station thinking about his life. He started to realize he was meant to be a coach. Once his part-time coaching job began to take up more time than his full-time office job, he knew he was hooked by coaching.
“That was when I realized that this would make me happy if I could do this all day,” Keith Euker said.
He put together a resume and sent it to lacrosse teams all over the country. After four months, his list was down to a few schools, including MU.
As his chances to land a coaching job with Missouri grew, he had a new problem to deal with — distance. If he accepted the Missouri job, it would land him 841 miles away from his family.
“I never even considered coming to the Midwest,” Keith Euker said.
After two rounds of interviews over the phone, Missouri flew Keith Euker to Columbia for more interviews.
“I saw a really good school that had a lot of support from the community,” Keith Euker said. “I saw a lot of opportunity to help grow the game in this part of the country, which was a big goal of mine.”
Coaching Missouri club lacrosse is a part-time job, and Keith Euker makes less money but loves what he is doing. He plans to supplement his income by running lacrosse camps in the offseason, something he said many lacrosse coaches do.
He still misses his family and was heartbroken to miss his niece's first lacrosse practice. He had always imagined teaching her how to play.
“Not only am I not there to do it, but I can't even see her actually play games,” Keith Euker said.
Family means everything to the Eukers. That’s why four years ago his parents sold the house they raised their family in to move to a section of Maryland where both of his sisters live.
Missing his niece’s lacrosse practice is just a reminder of how hard it was to leave his family, partly because most of his family has never lived outside of the Baltimore area. Four generations of the Euker family have lived there since his father's grandparents immigrated from Germany in the 1900s.
“Nobody had been that far away,” Carl Euker said. “He’s found something he loves to do, and that’s what you need to do. We’re all very excited for him.”
Keith Euker treats his team with the respect and work ethic of a Division I team. After all, his experience comes from playing for the Division I program at Loyola University in Maryland.
As a result, Keith Euker can be a tough coach. A big part of his team is conditioning, so the players work hard to stay in shape. One drill called "17s" is particularly challenging, sophomore Josh Nelson said.
The goal is to run 17 consecutive 50-feet sprints in under a minute. The team barely completed 15 the first time.
“In my mind I was thinking, ‘This guy must be freaking crazy, because this thing is impossible,’” sophomore Josh Nelson said. “They’re extremely difficult. That’s kind of a drill that everyone dreads.”
But Euker's experience and knowledge is exceptional, Nelson said.
“There is just a higher level of respect for someone who knows so much more than us,” Nelson said.
They practice five days a week, play over the weekend, and from the beginning to the end of the school year, the team is training and playing. Before, the team had a few months off during the winter. Now, they don’t.
“We practice as hard as most of the top-tier teams in the nation,” Nelson said.
Leaving his family was difficult, but despite being away from his siblings and parents, Euker said the lacrosse team is becoming a family. He acknowledged the time spent outside of practice together, and the bonds everyone was developing with one another.
Nelson even mentioned that on nights before games, the team comes together to hang out, play video games and avoid distractions. When his players start to trust one another, they start to play better, Euker said.
“We made strides that would not have been possible if we hadn’t had such a great coach come in,” Nelson said. “We just trust him.”
And despite being so far from his family, Euker trusts he has made the right decision.
“I’m happier now than I’ve been since I’ve graduated college,” Euker said. “It was the right decision.”