Meet the Team: Assistant Coach Joel Delass

This is part of our series where we reach out to Lansing Ignite players and coaches in an effort to get to know them before the season starts. Today we talk to Assistant Coach Joel Delass. He most recently played for the Dayton Dutch Lions, and was the head coach of Northwest Nazarene University. 

Westen Shelton: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your journey to this point in your career? What made you decide to enter coaching when your playing career ended?

Joel Delass: I grew up in Spring Lake, Michigan, and went to Western Michigan Christian High School. I was a late developer, and although I had a very good high school soccer career, I didn’t have a lot of a college options and ended up walking on at Wheaton College. I loved Wheaton and was blessed to play in a national championship match and went on to earn All-American accolades which opened the door to me playing professionally. I signed with the Charlotte Eagles – who were professional at the time – and after my rookie season, I signed closer to home with the  expansion side Dayton Dutch Lions in the USL Championship (formerly USL Pro). I had a few good years with DDL (U.S. Lamar Hunt Open Cup Quarter Finalists, USL Playoffs, named to the All-League team in 2012, and captained the side for 3 seasons), but once again, I was a bit of a late developer and wasn’t able to break into MLS. Coming out of a small high school and small college, I never had any expectation that I would be able to play professionally, let alone do it for a number of years, so my plan was always to coach. Back when I first started in the USL, the seasons were shorter, which allowed me to assist at the collegiate level when the playing season ended. It was a great opportunity for me to have a foot in both the playing and coaching worlds at the same time. When I finally hung up the boots, I had already been assisting at the collegiate level for six years, which opened of the door for me to take the head coaching job at Northwest Nazarene University.

WS: Going from a college head coaching job to the pro game, obviously you’ll be going from coaching young college guys, to a mix of younger guys plus some veterans. What kind of changes do you envision yourself having to make coaching some guys who have more experience?

JD: Thankfully, I was blessed to have played in the USL for a number of years and got the opportunity to experience firsthand what it’s like to be a rookie, what it’s like to not make an 18-man roster, what it’s like to be an everyday 90-minute guy and what it’s like to be a veteran in the league. Hopefully, I can take my experiences and help each of our guys, whether young or old, and help push them towards both the team and their individual goals. I know from my experience that individual goals and situations in life change as you’re in the league longer, but you still want to be pushed and motivated towards accomplishing the things you’re setting out to accomplish. I hope I can adjust quickly to once again being around and working with the older guys in order to help push everyone towards accomplishing the team’s and individual goals this season.

WS: Was there a specific style of play your teams at Northwest Nazarene had, or did you change it based on personnel in different years?

JD: Ball-dominate, high-pressure style of play. I think we did a really good job of making this our identity my first two seasons there, while this past year, we had to shift our style quite a bit due to four season-ending injuries at the centerback position early in the year.

WS: Can you tell me a little about what influenced you to take this job? I know it’s a homecoming for you, but also a jump to the pro game. Would you say one of those factors played more of a role than the other?

JD: The opportunity to be a part of pro soccer coming to Michigan is something I dreamt of when I was a player in the USL, so for that door to open, this is really a dream come true. After meeting Nate and hearing his vision for the club, I knew that if he chose to bring me on staff, this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I’m not really sure if making the jump to the pro game or coming home had more impact than the other. I do know that I had a good job at NNU, and my wife and I really loved Idaho, so if I had gotten a job offer that didn’t have both of these factors, I probably wouldn’t have taken it. But let’s be honest, professional soccer, in Michigan, it doesn’t get any better than this!

WS: Do you have any specific memory from your coaching career to this point that stands out as your favorite?

JD: Making it to the NCAA National Championship game with Wheaton in 2014. Unfortunately, we lost that game, making me one of the few people who have lost in the national championship as both a player and coach, but that season and the playoff run to the finals was unforgettable.

WS: What do you enjoy about the Mid Michigan area? What did you miss most while you were away?

JD: Michigan has everything. The people are amazing. The sports scene is incredible. The summers are to die for. My wife and I loved Idaho, but the thing I probably missed most is the water and hanging out on a boat with my friends during the summer.

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