Senior and scholar-athlete Kimani Laylor
After losing their fall season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Brooklyn College men’s soccer team returned to the pitch with a renewed sense of purpose after what was an incredibly challenging year.
After their 2020 season was cancelled, the team learned in late November 2020 that their beloved coach Joseph Réal André had passed away suddenly. André, a former CUNY student himself, joined the men’s soccer program in 2014 as an assistant coach and was promoted to head coach in 2016. Under André’s leadership, the squad qualified for the CUNYAC Championship tournament every season and advanced to the semifinals, eventually earning a bid to play in the Eastern College Athletic Association (ECAC) postseason tournament.
“It really came as a huge shock to our entire athletics family,” Director of Athletics Bruce Filosa said. “He respected everyone and just loved soccer and the team. I looked to him for suggestions regarding the team, and he was also instrumental in streamlining some of our procedures in the Athletics Department. I will always remember him fondly as a member of our staff, but also as a friend.”
Their new coach, Luis Flores, said the team has learned not to take too many things for granted.
“Aside from the pandemic itself and the different ways it may have affected each player, we, as a team, faced the sudden and tragic loss of Coach André,” Flores said. “The team rallied together to honor his memory as well as to pay tribute to how he impacted the team. Despite the real isolation of the pandemic, the team was able to rally in a moment of tragedy to stand together and be counted.”
For the team, 2021 was an up-and-down season. In this year’s CUNYAC Tournament, the no. 5 seeded Bulldogs reached the semifinals for the first time since 2017, after upsetting no. 4 seeded Hunter College on October 27. On October 30, the Bulldogs fell to the top-seeded Lehman College, whose only conference loss this season came to the Bulldogs.
One standout player, senior defender Kimani Laylor, dealt with unimaginable losses during the layoff but has committed himself on the field and in the classroom. He and his family had emigrated from Jamaica in 2017, and following the passing of Coach André, Laylor lost his mother in March 2021 after a valiant battle with cancer.
“I really came here to play because of Coach André,” Laylor said. “He came highly recommended, and after looking at other programs, I selected Brooklyn College. Working out, keeping in shape, and playing soccer became very important in helping to deal with my mother’s passing. Receiving the 2019 Coach’s Award from Coach André was special to me.”
But the layoff from soccer wasn’t all gloom and doom for Laylor and the team as they eyed a return to the field. Groups of players met outdoors to work out and practice and reunited off the field to honor their late coach and mentor.
Flores lauded Laylor’s commitment to being a solid defender as well as a well-rounded leader.
“Like many in his role, Kimani has had time during this long layoff to reflect on his commitment and efforts toward the team and has shown them throughout this season,” Flores said.
You might think that now that soccer has returned into his life, Laylor would be scrambling to find time for course work, practice, and games. But he discovered that being a competitive college athlete can be quite the opposite experience. Majoring in information systems, he enjoys the practical options the course work is preparing him for. Down the road, his lofty goals include looking to earn a pilot’s license, possibly working for an airline or serving his country in the United States Air Force, and even one day owning his own airline.
“I found that the discipline I learned during soccer season helped me organize and prioritize my time better,” Laylor said. “When you are in the middle of the season, you have classes, practice, games, and other responsibilities. There is really no time to waste. You are always on the go. Now that the season is back, I appreciate leaning on that again. This year has just taken a different path, but thankfully we are still prepared and committed to have success.”