Oct. 29, 2002
By Elliott Finebloom FSU Sports Information
Being the daughter of an NFL football coach is tough. Anyone who has spent time around coaches at any level knows how any hours they put in. Some have even been known to sleep in their offices and not even go home. To make it to the NFL requires even more dedication and even fewer hours with your family. Seminole soccer player Ashlee Fontes knows that all too well. Her father has been a football coach for 22 years. He has worked for the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings in the NFL on top of stints with LSU, the University of Miami, Northwestern and UCF.
“He never had the time to come to my games mainly because of his job,” remembers Ashlee. “My dad didn’t come to my soccer games until I was a senior in high school. He never came until other parents started telling him he should watch me because I wasn’t so bad.”
“Don ‘t misunderstand me though. My dad loved me so much and is one of the most caring people I have ever known. I understood how time-consuming his job was and that his work was important to him and to me.”
Ashlee comes from a family where there was little choice but to play sports. Her father and all four of his brothers are football coaches. All of her cousins played football and the girls in her family played basketball or soccer.
“I have been competitive since I was born and a lot of that has to do with the family,” she said “I was born into it. Sports are everyone ‘s life. I never had much of a choice.”
In middle school Ashlee played almost every sport. In high school she played basketball, soccer and volleyball. Hoops was always her first love but her varsity basketball coach may have had more of an influence on where she is today than anyone else.
“My first love has always been basketball,” said Ashlee. “My varsity basketball coach made me quit my job my freshman year. Then he made me quit volleyball and he tried to make me quit soccer. He wanted me to focus all of my energy and time on basketball but there was no way I was going to give soccer up. I had been playing since first grade. I ended up quitting basketball when I was starting on the varsity squad. It is the biggest regret I had but I just couldn’t work it out with my coach.
“I never understood how a high school coach could be so mean and rude to a kid that is 16 years old and maybe a little unsure of which direction she wants to go. How can you just forbid a kid from doing things and make them give up a passion of theirs. That just baffles me.”
After her differences with her basketball coach, Ashlee became very hesitant of her relationship with coaches and she also turned her attention full time towards soccer. The defender excelled at the sport but it was all out of the view of her father who was supportive but not often there.
“I think the reason I was so competitive in sports was because that was the way my brother got my dad ‘s attention. I was always trying to compete with my brother and be better than him in hopes of getting my dad ‘s attention,” said Ashlee. “I felt like it was a way to win a place in his heart.
“I know y dad really loved me but he is a very ‘old school ‘kind of guy. He is very family oriented and felt girls don ‘t really play sports competitively. He was a big-time college football player and my mom was the cheerleader so he always held the view that girls should be dainty and petite.”
Although Ashlee always knew her father did support her, it was her mother that was with her every step of the way. The former cheerleader became Ashlee ‘s biggest fan and the definition of the term ‘soccer mom ‘.
“My biggest supporter has always been my mom,” said Ashlee. “My dad and his brothers have always been supportive but she was the one driving me everywhere. I remember my first ODP tryout when I didn’t make the team and cried all the way home for two hours. She didn’t really understand the game but that didn’t stop her from supporting me.
“I can do no wrong by my mom. She is my best friend. She knows every little detail about me and about my life. She has been there through all the good and bad.”
During Ashlee ‘s senior year of high school, she really started to bond with her father over her athletic experiences. While the two were always very close, their relationship really started to grow during her senior year.
“I think I reached a point, probably when he started coming to my games, that I had almost given up on the idea of him having the time to see me play. Then once he started coming it made me feel that much better and play that much better,” she remembers. “I think he is the reason I am here. He gave me the motivation to get to where I am.”
The two became even closer during the recruiting process. As Ashlee started to get opportunities to go on to the next level and play in college, she and her dad really got even closer to one another.
“Even though my dad has been a college coach for all these years, I don ‘t think he understood the women ‘s side of NCAA athletics and how the recruiting actually works,” said Ashlee. “He never really understood how likely it was for me to be recruited and come play at a top-level university. Once I got into the process and he saw the opportunities for me it was exciting for both of us. It was a bonding experience for us and turned out to be a lot of fun. He was excited for me. He saw all of my hard work and that it paid off. It was an emotional moment for him.”
As proud of Ashlee as her dad was, her mom was even more emotional. The woman who had driven Ashlee all over to practice and play was practically in tears throughout the recruiting process.
“My mom is always crying. Every time something good happened for me she couldn’t keep her tears in,” said Ashlee as she smiled thinking back on that time in her life. “I could hardly hear her tell me how proud she was over the crying. Once I started to get recruited and signed with FSU she was overjoyed. She was so happy to see my dreams come true. She knew better than anyone how hard I worked to get where I was.”
Getting to the point of signing her letter intent was an uphill battle for Ashlee every step of the way. Despite fighting for her father ‘s attention, she had to deal with the other aspect of having a coach for a father, the moving. While it was great that her father worked for all these NFL and college programs, it is tough on a young child to move that many times.
“I was born in Miami but I moved around a lot so I never really had a home,” said Ashlee. “We moved around so much because of my dad ‘s work. Coaching is such an unstable profession and it was horrible to have to see my dad go from job to job. Coaching football is his passion and there is only so much of your fate you can control. You can only do so much.”
Ashlee would spend a year in one city, six months in another and a couple years somewhere else. It was a difficult life for her growing up. She never had an opportunity to make friends and was consistently the new kid everyone would pick on.
“Moving around was the worst because I could never really make any friends,” remembers Ashlee. “We’d be in one place for six months and then another place for a year. People were always so mean to me too. The positive side was that it did wonders to bring our family together. We are very close. My brother and I are unbelievably close. I know I can depend on him and count on my whole family.”
On top of always being the new kid in town, Ashlee always felt her family was isolated from the community because of her parent ‘s nationality. Her father’s family is from Portugal and her mom ‘s parents were Cuban and Italian.
“Because we didn’t look like everyone else I often felt like an outcast in the community,” said Ashlee. “I learned you have to be there for yourself and do things for yourself.”
That is an attribute that Ashlee still holds in the highest regard today. She never wanted anyone to know her uncle, Wayne Fontes, was the head football coach of the Detroit Lions. She never wanted it mentioned in the FSU soccer media guide because it is very important to her that people know she is where she is for no other reason than hard work.
“I never wanted any advantages because my dad knows this guy or my uncle is able to hook me up,” said Ashlee. “I want to be able to live with myself. I want people to know that I made it on my own. A lot of that has to do with my dad. He had nothing growing up and he made it on his own.”
“I am so thankful that my parents are there to support me when I get off the field but I don ‘t want them to have anything to do with what happens on the field. I want to get ahead by myself no matter how hard that might be. I don ‘t want any special treatment that anyone else wouldn’t get.”
While Ashlee never got any special treatment she has had people who have helped her along the way. She met two people in particular when her dad went to work for his brother with the Lions and the family moved to Michigan. One was a girl who lived two doors down from her and the other was her club coach.
After being treated so badly by kids whenever she relocated to a new city, Ashlee finally met someone who accepted her right away. Erica Williams, her future best friend, didn’t care what she looked like or where she was from. She even went as far to help Ashlee get on the elite club team in the state of Michigan.
“They had one elite club team that you had to be on and people were striving to get on it,” said Ashlee. “I got lucky as far as moving into the area we did and eventually making it on to that club team. A lot of that had to with my best friend.
“We lived a few doors down from a girl who eventually became my best friend. She was already on a really good club team and was probably the nicest person I ever met in all of our moves. She didn’t care that I was the new kid and she set me up with the coach on her team. I owe getting started with soccer in Michigan to her. If it weren’t for her I would have needed a couple of years to establish myself and play for that team. That would have pushed everything back and I doubt I would be where I am today if that had happened.”
After her experiences with her basketball coach in high school, it was hard for Ashlee to really trust her new coach but that got easier over time. They developed a great relationship and as much as her basketball coach had to do with her playing soccer in a negative way, her club soccer coach had a similar affect on her future but in a much more positive manner.
“I had the best club coach I could ever ask for,” remembers Ashlee. He got me so much exposure and gave me so many options. He was probably the best youth coach I ever had.
“It was such a huge change. My club coach was the complete opposite. He always encouraged me to play other sports because he felt it would help me in the long run. He knew it could help my coordination and that it would also be good for me.”
With her friend and coach behind her, Ashlee ‘s soccer career really took off and it culminated in her signing with Florida State. It was a dream come true for the defender but she didn’t handle her excitement and responsibilities well in the time leading up to her first season as a Seminole.
“Before I came to school my friends warned me that I was messing up,” said Ashlee. “After I signed to play at FSU,I guess I celebrated a little too much and for too long because I was so absolutely thrilled to be coming here.
“We had this brand new facility that nobody had ever played on and was going to be beautiful. There was a new coach with amazing accolades that was going to turn the program around. I was so excited but I was so stupid. I thought I didn’t have to worry about anything after I signed. I kept telling myself this would be the last time with my friends so I would put off everything else to be with them. I didn’t do what I needed to do to prepare myself. I didn’t train. I didn’t run. I came to FSU in terrible shape. I had too much fun in the summer. I didn’t have my priorities. I felt horrible once I got here after preseason was over. Coach Baker took the time to recruit me and give me a chance and I let him down. I didn’t live
up to my part of the bargain my freshman year. I started on the wrong foot.”
That fall was very difficult for Ashlee and she blames nobody but herself. She struggled through the preseason and remembers calling her friends back home everyday and telling them she wasn’t going to make it. She didn’t get many opportunities that season but even when she did, she didn’t take advantage of them. As crazy as it sounds, what may have been one of the worst semesters of her life might have been the best thing for her.
“I think that year re-sparked my passion for soccer,” said Ashlee. “That year was an absolute struggle for me. I got off to a bad start because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t playing and I wasn’t used to that. Even when I got an opportunity I wasn’t doing what I should have been doing. It was extremely frustrating for me.
“That fall was a huge testing ground for my character. Once it was over I realized I loved soccer too much to mess up this great opportunity I had. Not everyone gets the chance we do so after fall was over I started running everyday. I came into the spring really fit. I improved my play and I got more opportunities and this time I took advantage of them. I learned a huge lesson that year.”
That lesson paid off for Ashlee and it shows with her play on the field. The right back has started 54 of FSU ‘s last 62 matches since her sophomore season. While she is proud of herself, that pride has nothing to do with starting for a Top 25 team for three straight years. Her pride comes from doing a good job not being amongst the starting 11.
“It is always great to start but its terrible to get all caught up in being on the field for the first minute of a game. You can be a great player and not be a starter,” said Ashlee. “Three of our center backs are probably the best in the conference but all three can ‘t start. That doesn’t mean they are any less of a player.
“I worry about doing my job when I am in a game more than the time on the clock when I get on the field. I know my teammates believe in me so I worry more about just playing well. If I am starting and letting them down, it doesn’t make me feel any better that I am in the first 11.As long as I get the job done whether it is for a full game or 25 minutes …after not starting that was a humbling experience and I am just happy to be playing.”
One of the main reasons Ashlee is playing is because of her senior teammates. The little girl who got picked on where ever she moved came to FSU without a great track record for making lasting friendships. Now she had 12 new kids in her class and a team full of players she had never met. Her trouble making friends while growing up just reinforced the value Ashlee places on true friendship.
“I have really learned the value of friendship. I guess it has a lot to do with my childhood and having such a difficult time with making friends,” recalls Ashlee. “I’ve never come across a better group of people than I have here. To be with this group of seniors from day one is special.
“I think I was the worst player on the team y freshman year, I came in to school on the wrong foot and they never doubted me. They stuck with me the whole time. They are my best friends and they are why I come back every day outside of playing soccer. They make everything so much easier and are the reason
I am always smiling on the field or laughing during a game. It has been a great time. I’ve never had such great friendships and they developed so quickly over a short period of time. They are such good people.”
Her senior classmates never doubted Ashlee ‘s ability even though all they knew was what they saw of her on the field her freshman year when, in her own words, she struggled. They never stopped believing in her and their support made a huge difference with her family so far away.
“Their support meant so much to me because they saw what I went through freshman year, “said Ashlee. “I came in so unprepared. I had my chances and didn’t put myself in position to take advantage of them. If I could get that year back I would. It makes me nauseous to think I would do that. I always told them that I was better than what I was showing and they always believed me.
“I worked hard in the spring and I was helped by their confidence in me. I didn’t have my family to lift me up and encourage me but they did that. My teammates really stood behind me and I still get chocked up when I think about it.”
Four years after her dad finally came to see her play soccer, Ashlee is a starter on one of the nation ‘s top soccer teams. She has gone to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, seen her team finish in the Top 20 the last two years and has faced down some of the best forwards in the nation. So is her dad proud of her now?
“He ‘s proud because I stuck with it,” said Ashlee. “There are always times when it would be easy to quit but it is such an accomplishment to have been a part of a team as great as this one for four years. I think he is proud that I made the right choice to come to school here and taking that chance. He’ll be more proud when I graduate though.”
“One thing I do understand now, is that he ‘s always been my biggest fans. Since I’ve been at college, he’s the first person I call for advice. I know he’s proud of me no matter what and his love is unconditional.”
And what about Ashlee? Is she proud of how much she has overcome to get where she is today?
“I am ore now than before,” said Ashlee. “I am proud of myself more so because I really think I have my priorities straight now.”