Joseph Lapira earned national player of the year honors while competing for Notre Dame. Now, he says he wants to help local soccer players to improve. (
American Press file photos / Photo illustration by Rick Hickman)
Last Modified: Monday, June 02, 2014 12:38 PMFor Joseph Lapira, a little hustle on the soccer field led to his dream college and a professional career that helped him see the world.
Lapira, who helped St. Louis win two state championships before becoming the 2006 NCAA player of the year at Notre Dame, moved back to Lake Charles in the past year after spending several years playing abroad.
The international adventure started with a hopeful e-mail to Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark.
“I always wanted a chance to go to Notre Dame. I had some cousins that went there, and my uncle and godfather had went there,” Lapira said.
“I went up to visit my cousin there and wrote the coach. He invited me to a game. He sat us down afterwards and told us it was hard to get into there. They had a lot of good players coming there. He explained the recruiting process to me. From there, I started sending out letters and didn’t get many responses.
“I wanted to play, even if it was at a smaller school. Clark told me to come to their summer camp if I had a chance. My club team won state and went to regionals my junior year of high school. We did well there, making the semifinals, and I played the best game of my life. One of the Notre Dame assistants was at that game. I went to their camp a few weeks after that. I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky guy: I guess they liked my attitude and figured I would be a good guy for the locker room.”
Lapira accepted an offer to play for the Fighting Irish, earned a little playing time right away and developed into the college player of the year as a junior.
“I wasn’t doing too much,” he said. “I just got near the goal and tapped them in. My teammates did all the work getting it there.”
During his time at Notre Dame, Lapira got to play a game with the Irish national team. He was eligible because his mother is from Ireland.
“They had called me right after my junior season of college, in January, but that was right after I had surgery on my right knee,” he said.
“Some journalist from a Dublin newspaper had written a big spread on me, then I started getting calls about if I had gotten an Irish passport yet. They told me they were coming to the States that summer and asked if I wanted to train with them. I got to train with them in New York for a week. We played Ecuador in Giants Stadium in front of 20,000 people. Before the first game, I went up to the coach, Steve Staunton. I had watched him play in the 1994 World Cup. I was in Ireland for that. I asked him where I was sitting for the game. He said ‘On the bench. Your jersey is over there.’ I was tickled to death, I didn’t think there was any chance I would get to play. I played five or ten minutes and touched the ball a couple of times.”
Following his senior season, Lapira left school to play professionally in Norway.
“I had an Irish passport, so I figured I would go to Europe to play,” he said. “I was drafted by Toronto of the MLS, but I had told them that I was going to Europe. I figured I had a couple of years to have some fun, make some money and live in some cool places. The team I went to (Nybergsund IL-Trysil) was right near a ski resort. I lived in the resort for three years. I still have friends there I talk to weekly. It was pretty cool, the town had about 500 people and the resort about 2000. I made friends with the fans there, talked to them. I was voted fans’ player of the year. The fan club president was one of my best friends. I still talk to him.”
After a few years in Norway, Lapira was thinking about the next stage of his life when a new soccer opportunity arose.
“I was about done playing and my agent called and asked if I wanted to try some places in Asia for him,” he said. “I went to Vietnam, then Singapore and then to India for a few weeks. One of the teams in India asked me to come back for a tournament. The second day I was back there, my appendix ruptured and had to be removed. I stayed there for three months then went back to Norway for six months. Then I tried to get back into school but missed the window to get accepted. I spent another six months in Norway not playing. When I was under contract, I was not allowed to ski or snowboard, so I spent time learning all that and having fun.”
Leaving the playing field was not tough.
“I got to travel the world and meet cool people,” Lapira said. “I got lucky. I never had much skill but worked my butt off. Seeing the world is the main reason I played professionally.”
Upon returning to the US, Lapira went back to Notre Dame to complete his studies. The school was always a special place for him.
“It lived up to the expectations: Even in the dead of winter it is gorgeous,” he said. “I studied management/entrepreneurship. I left school with a semester left, so I went back and graduated in January 2013. The reason I wanted to go to Notre Dame was to get the degree, not play soccer.”
Lapira spent this school year helping longtime friend Trevor Foolkes coach the Sulphur soccer team.
“When Trevor was running track at McNeese, my mom heard there were some Irish runners at McNeese that could not go home for Thanksgiving,” Lapira said. “There was no way she was going to let people from Ireland starve over Thanksgiving, so she invited them over, and we became friends. Trevor is like a brother to me. When I came back, I was working on a farm near Alexandria with a friend. He asked if I could come do a camp for him. I did that for a week. When I moved back, he asked me to come help. He is doing wonders with that program.”
Lapira is now working for an insurance company and getting involved in the local soccer scene.
“I still play in a coed league here but don’t try to score. I just try to help the other guys score,” he said. “I am trying to get more involved with the game locally. I started doing some individual training sessions with kids. I will be helping with tryouts for select teams this week. It has been pretty cool being back. I missed the food, the people and the hospitality. Everybody’s family here.”
For more information on the select teams, call 842-9681.
Posted By: katherine Jones On: 6/15/2014
Title: Good news to share
Wonderful article for young kids to learn
Posted By: George Fonteno On: 6/14/2014
Title: I love the article
Thanks for having articles of locals doing well,