By GLENN HIBDON
GTR Sports Writer
Dominique Jeremias Dean, better known as D.J., wakes up every morning thankful for the opportunity he’s been given. The 20-year-old Tulsan is determined not to waste it.
Whenever Dean dwells on becoming a professional soccer player seemingly overnight, he pauses to reflect on how it could all go away in a heartbeat.
“I know a lot of players my age would love to be in my position,’’ said Dean, an attacker for the Tulsa Roughnecks of the United Soccer League. “Every day I go out and practice and think about that. It keeps me focused and working hard. I know at any time there are kids out there who can take my place.
“I’m just trying to enjoy my time going from no experience at all to playing pro soccer. It’s been a mental adjustment playing with these guys, knowing this is what they do (full time for a living).’’
Dean’s road to the professional ranks began at Union High School. After becoming an all-state performer playing on “the best team in the state’’ as a senior, he traveled to the University of Central Arkansas. Attending the school’s preseason camp, he decided the college route wasn’t for him.
“My goal was to play professional soccer and in college I felt like the players were so young, I might as well take the opportunity now to play pro,’’ Dean said. “At first I looked overseas, but then I got in with the Roughnecks and went to their combine. It went well and they invited me to preseason camp last year. I played in a couple of preseason games and they signed me.’’
Voila! Just like that, Dean is a pro ready to follow his dream. However, finding his niche with the Roughnecks has been another journey in itself. Dean played in 14 games last year in the team’s disastrous three-win season. In 2019 he started the team’s season opener, only to be injured and miss the next couple of outings.
After returning to the lineup, Dean suffered a shin contusion and was sidelined for a month. As of mid-June, he still had not scored his first goal as a Roughneck.
“It’s been frustrating, very frustrating watching from the sidelines,’’ said Dean, who played a full 90 minutes for the first time in his career against El Paso on June 15. “I’ve gone through a lot of rehab and I’m just now getting back to form. I feel good physically, but I’m not 100 percent fit. I don’t have any bumps or bruises, but my endurance is still missing.’’
While Dean awaits the full return of his physical tools, he reflected on his athletic roots and where they could have led him. Soccer was not his first love.
“Basketball was the first sport I tried. My dad played college basketball in Wichita,’’ Dean said. “I found out I was too short and it just wasn’t my thing, My mom decided to sign me up for youth soccer and right away I knew it was the sport for me. I think my quickness and skill and patience made me a better soccer player than basketball.’’
Dean played youth soccer for “every single team in Tulsa’’ and started as a freshman at Union. Ironically, he even played for current Roughnecks coach Mike Nsien on one youth team.
“I think I played well for him, but he doesn’t do me any favors now,’’ said Dean. “He makes it 10 times harder for me knowing the potential I have. If you work hard and do what he says, he will reward you. There is nothing more than I can ask of him as a coach. He has grit and works hard and he really cares about the team. He really wants us to win.’’
There is one more hidden hero who wants Dean and the Roughnecks to triumph. Flor Dean, D.J.’s mother.
“Growing up, she was a single mother raising two kids and going to school. That really motivated me,’’ said Dean, who has up to 20 family members and friends at every Roughnecks home game. “She gave me inspiration by her example that hard work will pay off. She supported me in whatever I was doing and missed only one game my whole life. If I ever hit it big, the first thing I’m going to do is make sure she is set for life.’’
Dean wants to pay it forward as an example for Tulsa Soccer Club players. He wants to show them that it’s possible to become a professional soccer player. “You’re only one step away.’’
In the meantime, the 5-foot-9 winger hopes to propel Tulsa into the USL playoffs this year. The 2018 campaign led to the coaching staff’s firing during the season. Nsien took charge, leading the Roughnecks to all three of their season victories.
“The team didn’t mesh together well and it didn’t play the style the coach wanted,’’ said Dean, the only 2018 player retained by the Roughnecks this year. “In our meetings before this season he (Nsien) said I had a lot of potential and he wanted to bring me back and that’s a good feeling. I have the potential to play in a bigger league and every kid wants that. It’s a dream to play for the national team and in the World Cup.’’
Dean’s chance at international stardom begins in Tulsa and leading the Roughnecks to USL success could be the catalyst.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to have the guts and the heart,’’ said Dean, who lists Ronaldinho as his hero. “I think we have a productive team that passes well and we’re very smart, but our attitude has to change. We were too comfortable by winning so much early in the season. We’ve slowed a little bit
“My goals this year are to score a lot of goals, help the team win and make a name for myself. I want to put Tulsa on the map.’’
One thing is certain. Dean, Tulsa’s homegrown star, knows how lucky he is to have the chance.
By GLENN HIBDON