For University of Mary Washington senior David Heller, playing a sport seems to be in his genes.
In fact, Heller jokes that he started playing soccer, “probably right about when I could start walking.”
His mother starred in volleyball and his father played football, basketball and ran track. Adding to the athleticism, his brother currently plays lacrosse and his sister plays field hockey.
Beginning young in his family of athletes helped secure him a frequent starting defensive position as a UMW freshman. Last spring, as a junior, he earned the Male Scholar Athlete of the Year award, a title traditionally reserved for a senior. Heller was only the second junior to receive the award since its establishment at UMW in 1990.
The scholar athlete award recognizes the varsity upperclassmen that excel academically and athletically. To earn the award, student athletes must keep at least a 3.3 cumulative grade point average and contribute greatly to the success of their team, according to UMW Sports Information Director, Clint Often.
Heller’s soccer coach, Jason Kilby, said Heller won the award because off his “extremely high GPA” and his strong athleticism.
“He’s very well-rounded,” Kilby said.
For Heller, soccer is something inherent and comfortable, but he came to UMW without a guaranteed spot on the team which already had established junior and senior defenders.
Despite initially being told he may not have a lot of playing time, after preseason ended he wound up starting in 85 percent of the games as a freshman.
While he started as a freshman among upperclassmen, he felt comfortable in his new role.
“I wouldn’t really say I’m the nervous type,” he said, “Soccer is soccer. A lot of other people were bigger and faster than me, but there are ways around that.”
Before college, Heller played for the same travel soccer team in Alexandria through high school and still stays in touch with his travel team, which ranked in the top five Virginia travel teams during his stretch.
While, as a defender, he manages to score winning goals, like in last year’s semifinal game against Salisbury University which advanced the team to the championship in double overtime, he also holds a 3.5 GPA.
Men’s soccer coach Jason Kilby said he always uses Heller as a positive “point of reference,” even though it may embarrass him.
“For [David] to be able to manage his time and do well…it’s pretty impressive,” Kilby said of Heller’s ability to balance school and athletics.
“He strives for excellence in the classroom and on the field,” he said.
Over the summer, he worked as an intern with Fannie Mae in Washington, D.C., and was offered a job after graduation, which he is currently considering.
Heller’s approach to school is simple and focused, and he has a firm grasp on how to manage academics and soccer at the same time. Paying attention in class is most important, he said.
“I really don’t like to waste my time, I’m here to learn; it’s what I’m paying for,” he said.
When he’s not focusing in class, Heller plays soccer because he loves the game. There is one exception—he does not like to lose.
“I don’t know if it’s because I hate losing or because I don’t like…seeing [my teammates] upset as well,” he explained.
After a loss, he makes the best of it. “I try and bring everyone up, I try and bring myself up, [and] try and fight back as best we can,” he said.
In Kilby’s two years of coaching Heller, he said Heller has “progressed as a team leader,” and leads by example on and off the field.
“He’s a great role model for all of our student athletes at UMW,” Kilby said.