COLUMBIA — Junior forward John Hutchison has the peculiar practice of licking the bottom of his cleats before buying them.
For the past two seasons, the junior college transfer from Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Ill., completed the superstitious ritual in order to increase his offensive production, and, according to Hutchison, it worked.
“I licked the bottom of them, I scored 20 goals,” he said. “Last year, I bought another pair. I licked the bottom; I scored 14.”
This season, Hutchison again diligently observed his tradition and already netted the only goal in the Cougars’ season opener against John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark., and also scored in every preseason game.
“I thought he was crazy, but I guess I can’t really blame him,” junior teammate Parker Rawdon said.
Hutchison’s habit might even attract new practitioners among the team.
"These guys are kind of getting worn out," said junior Brian Eike, gesturing toward his own cleats . "I might try that with the new pair I’m about to buy.”
Despite his skill with his feet, Hutchison also has a talent of crafting wood; he originally wanted to be a carpenter, not a soccer player.
The Stoneyburn, Scotland-native first started playing soccer near age 12, unlike most Scottish children who began playing the sport at a much earlier age.
He worked for four years in a factory and looked for an apprenticeship with a carpenter. An offer never came and a frustrated Hutchison abandoned his dream for a new one when a friend told him he could play soccer in the United States.
Hutchison initially didn’t believe him.
“This is the stuff of dreams,” he said. “This would never happen in a million years.”
Despite his skepticism, Hutchison contacted FirstPoint USA, a scholarship agency, which helped him go to the United States and attend Lincoln Land. After playing two years, Hutchison heard he attracted the attention of Columbia College. He transferred to the Cougars for the 2010 season.
In the first regular season game of 2010, Hutchison had a busy debut for the Cougars. Along with scoring the game-winning goal, he received a yellow card and nearly got ejected after getting tangled up with John Brown’s goalkeeper while competing for a loose ball.
He feels his collegiate soccer career in the U.S. rescued him from the factory, and this inspires him to play intensely in front of Columbia College soccer fans.
“The lights, the crowd, it all kind of gets to me," Hutchison said. "It pushes me on, takes me to a different level. It’s just so out of a dream.”
Along with playing intensely on a real field, Hutchison also has a passion for playing soccer on the virtual field. According to Eike, Hutchison often plays the 2010 edition of the FIFA World Cup video game against him and Rawdon, and Hutchision always takes control of Scotland, but his devotion to country does not reap the same rewards as his devotion to licking his shoes.
“He tries hard in both, on the field and off the field in FIFA," Eike said. "He definitely shows more out here. That’s where it counts.”