After the Eggo chocolate chip waffles in the morning and occasionally pasta with pesto in the afternoon, Lee Perkins jumps into his red Toyota Corolla and lets the metamorphosis unfold. His eclectic playlist of 50 Cent, LCD Sound System, Arctic Monkeys and Eminem echoes inside the car.
“I blast that all the way up on the way to the game,” Perkins said.
Perkins — a striker and a captain for Texas’ club soccer team — exits the car and trots onto the field where the transformation completes.
“Honestly like a switch is flipped,” senior midfielder Mariano Aufiero said. “He’ll be the most mellow person off the field.”
But on the field, teammates say, Perkins plays with a unique aggressiveness.
“A lot of times in practices, he’ll get after people, be clipping people, elbowing people, and everyone else is sort of playing at a lower level,” Aufiero said. “He brings a level of intensity to whatever he does.”
Perkins’ aggression dates back to high school. But this year, it’s something he’s tried to scale back on. He doesn’t say much during games, but his body language sends a message. When he gets frustrated, his shoulders slouch, his head drops and his palms face up.
“You could tell that he was visibly frustrated,” head coach Matt Prewett said. “Sometimes he would get frustrated with teammates that don’t see the game as quickly as he does. And again, he would scold them or his body language could be negative.”
Perkins’ eruptions sometimes take place when he doesn’t have the ball, and his position demands it.
“Those guys, they’re really dependent on the rest of the team to get the ball,” Aufiero said. “And if he’s just not, for whatever reason, just not getting the ball a lot, then like, he’ll get frustrated.”
His teammates and coaches say he’s one of the most competitive people they’ve been around. They say his passion is a powerful tool. He uses it to achieve wins, and he doesn’t like spending time on the sideline.
But sometimes his passion backfires.
“A lot of people will, like, get frustrated,” Aufiero said. “And they’ll yell back.”
Perkins said he wanted to improve his demeanor this year. In late August, he and Prewett met at Miltos Mediterranean Café. Perkins asked his coach how he could become a better leader. Prewett emphasized the importance of body language. He told Perkins to keep his shoulders back and his head up.
Perkins is a changed man this season. He shouts encouragement and pats his teammates on the back.
“Especially if someone messes up, that’s not a time to be down on them,” Perkins said. “Just say, ‘do better,’ say ‘you’ll get it next time’ or just say something positive. It really helps. It’s like surprising. I never really believed that it helped that much, but it does.”
For now, Perkins hopes to bring Texas its first national championship since 1996. He’ll transform on the way to Phoenix or the pitch or sometime in between. Win or lose, his head will stay up.