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Allen Park girls' soccer Coach Justin Hunter Photo by Terry Jacoby

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Justin Hunter stood on the sideline Friday evening just a few feet away from the guy who helped put him there – and he couldn’t help but thank the man.

“I owe everything as far as coaching goes to Mike Hatfield,” said Hunter. “He is a great friend and father figure to me and continues to be a mentor not only in soccer but in life.”

Hunter is the new soccer coach at Allen Park where he is trying to create what Hatfield has built in Trenton – a successful and growing soccer program.

Hatfield helped get Hunter the JV girls’ head coaching job at Gabriel Richard and then the boys’ varsity job at Richard last year. With a few years of success under his belt, including as an assistant coach at U-M Dearborn, Hunter landed the girls’ varsity job at Allen Park this year – with another recommendation from Hatfield.

“He’s young, excited, understands the game and most importantly he knows how to get the most out of his players,” said Hatfield, who led the Richard girls’ program for four successful years and has since coached the Trojans to three straight district titles. “He’s also always learning and always asking questions, trying to get better.”

Hunter played soccer and graduated from Carlson in 2011. He now attends U-M Dearborn and hopes to become an elementary school teacher.

While Hatfield may have a few assists, Hunter is the one kicking the ball in the net to score these impressive jobs. Hard work, dedication and a commitment to the programs he is coaching have already started paying off for the young coach.

Only 21, Hunter is facing a big challenge with the Jaguars.

“This was a team full of girls who were OK with being average,” Hunter said. “They knew they would lose to certain teams and they were OK with it. The talent on the squad is a very high level but no one wanted to work hard because of the low-level expectations.

“Luckily, they've had some good coaches in the past so they were able to adapt fairly easily.”

Hunter says coaching at a public school such as Allen Park is a little different than running a program at a private school like Richard.

“Things are run differently and the players act differently,” he said. “Not in a bad way, just different. It's been a challenge having to manage a JV team as well which is a first for me.

“I was scared walking into a new big school I wasn't familiar with and coaching players I didn't know.”

They have been getting used to each other and so far it seems like a great fit for the players, the coach and the program.

“There is so much talent coming through the middle school and not to mention what we already have,” he said. “The girls have taken very well to me and my style of coaching in just a few months. I can only imagine what we will be able to do next year and the years to come.”

They hired Becky Ansel to run the JV team and the players are responding to her knowledge of the game and enthusiasm. Now the two coaches need to change the attitude.

“We need to create a championship winning mindset regardless of whom we play or the score,” he said. “I plan on helping them play soccer year round. Playing indoor and club is the best way to become a better soccer player and help build the program.”

As one would expect, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for the program in these first few months - but there are plenty of positives to lean on moving forward.

“All of our games this year have been more competitive than last year,” Hunter said. “We are competing with the top-tier teams. All I ever ask of them before every game is to work hard and good things will come. And these girls have seen that.”

Hunter is looking for the Jags to continue to improve and finish strong this season.

“We have lost a lot of games by a goal or two and they have been weak goals we could've prevented,” he said. “We have a few tests left this year and rising to them would be fantastic. Let the league see that Allen Park is not a school that they can write a ‘W’ next to and assume a win.

“I want to be a team no one looks forward to playing and I think we were a little bit of that this year.”

Last Updated: 5/5/2014 11:11:23 AM EST