By NICK MENDOLA
The Tonawanda News
KENMORE — Richie Brinkman may be a villain to the opposition, but the Kenmore East junior would rather you lose the ‘I’ when talking about his soccer allegiances.
“I love Aston Villa, I’m a Villan,” said Brinkman of his favorite English Premier League team. “I’m up early every Saturday watching EPL and my role model, Gabby Agbonlahor.”
It’s fitting that Brinkman looks up to Agbonlahor, an English player who stars on his hometown team. While many kids with the skill set of Brinkman chose to go to major academies, the Bulldogs striker still plies his trade with KenTon Soccer under his coach — and former Bulldog player — Eric Bond.
“It started off as a family decision but he really likes playing with his friends,” said Scott Brinkman, Richie’s father. “He’s enjoyed his coaches and enjoyed the association.
“When you look at him and you look at some of the kids going into these other programs, I’m not seeing any difference.”
Brinkman paces the Bulldogs. Coupled with his club affiliation, it’s clear he is proud to use his talents in his own backyard.
“Kenmore East has a great tradition,” Brinkman said. “We’ve had great teams always and we’re trying to keep that going.”
This season boasts a variety of obstacles to the Bulldogs title dreams. Grand Island and Kenmore West are up in addition to traditional threats like Lockport, who are undefeated and have outscored their opponents 33-2. Brinkman said his team’s pride is unwavering.
“We started out rough but we can definitely have a good season,” he said. “We made a good run in sectionals last year but we need more consistency.”
Brinkman glides around the field, equally capable of striking from distance and feeding his open teammates. Ken East coach Rolfe Friedenberg knows he has an asset in his junior, who was the only sophomore named to the All-WNY team in 2011.
“Richie’s a hard worker and a great kid,” Friedenberg said. “The guys look up to him in how he plays. Hopefully what he does out there sets an example.”
Brinkman’s star also shines in the classroom and he joined a new program at Ken East called the International Baccalaureate program.
“It’s the highest degree you can get from East,” he said, adding that his career goals are uncertain. “Law school’s always been up there for me. Physical therapy is also interesting. I like to interact with people.”
Mistaking Brinkman for being bookish would be silly, however, as the youngster is often the first to enliven the mood during Friedenberg’s demanding practices.
“Him and Jeremy Wood have a great time out there,” Friedenberg said. “They are always joking around. It’s hard for me because I’m trying to find that balance, but they lighten the practice up.”
The balance between education and comedy is struck somewhere between home and the pitch, according to Scott Brinkman.
“He has intensity but he likes to run the show,” Scott Brinkman said. “He’s a talker. The nice thing is the whole team communicates. He’s quiet around the house but if you put him on the field he perks up.”
That’s where Brinkman feels at home. His high grades and scholarship will enable him to get his foot in the door at many good schools and his soccer may just take care of the rest.
“I like the ball at my feet,” he said. “I distribute well. I dribble well. I’ll have my bad touches and stuff but I like to think I’m good because we have skill on our team. We can go far.”