Each game bore the same routine for Jeremy Wentzel.
The attacking midfielder for Western Washington University's men's soccer team would approach his coach and ask one simple question.
"Am I playing today?" Wentzel recalled asking time and again.
The answer was always the same: Not today.
Wentzel arrived at WWU in the spring of 2011 with his sights set on breaking the everyday rotation and logging significant time in the midfield. There was one problem: He wasn't eligible to play with the NCAA Clearinghouse due to a high school science class. The exact reasoning as to why he couldn't play was lost on him then. What wasn't, though, was the reality that for a year, he wouldn't take the field as a Viking.
"There (were) times I would get so frustrated at practice that I would just not really try as hard," Wentzel said. "In my head, 'Yeah, I am not even playing in games. This is stupid.'"
The point of complete disbelief came when Wentzel approached his coach at the annual alumni game. It was a glorified scrimmage, he thought, so there was no reason he couldn't play.
His coach's response was the same: "No, this counts as an NCAA game."
Another game relegated to watching, another game mounting to his already-spiking confusion and annoyance.
After enduring a year of uncertainty, Wentzel returned to the Vikings' active roster this year and has played a key role in WWU's resurgent season. Currently, the redshirt sophomore ranks second on the team in both goals and assists with four apiece, and the Vikings (8-3-3, Great Northwest Athletic Conference 6-1-3) sit in third place in their conference.
Wentzel's frustration was apparent to WWU coach Greg Brisbon. So much so that Brisbon decided to pull Wentzel aside last year and speak to him about his difficult situation.
The 21-year-old midfielder was still able to practice, so much of the conversation centered on continuing to improve, Brisbon said.
"I know kids live in the moment, and I knew the he needed to work hard in practice at the time so when we did need him, he could continue to get better," Brisbon said. "I just didn't want to see him stop working hard and waste two, two-and-half months where he could get something out of it."
His wariness about the situation subsided in the following days, and Brisbon recalled seeing a renewed Wentzel at practice.
"I had to mentally stay into it, but it was tough," Wentzel said.
Brisbon sold him on the fact that his day was coming, and against Metro State on Sept. 6, it finally did.
But before Wentzel trotted out to the field before game time, he recalled a conversation he and his coach had. It was less a conversation, though, Wentzel said, and more Brisbon taking the opportunity to remind him of all he had been through in the last year.
"He said, '... I want you to play with a chip on your shoulder, (and) I want you to come out and show you were frustrated and this is your time to play,'" he said of the conversation. "I was really excited. I never had to sit out from soccer for that long."
His return came during a defeat, but he was back playing with the team he had only come to know on a practice field.
Despite overcoming a sizable obstacle, Wentzel isn't a large man. Standing 5-foot-5, and listed as weighing somewhere south of 150 pounds, his size is misleading given his temperament, Brisbon said.
"For him, I do think he has to play with a chip on his shoulder to kind of prove to everyone he can (win) 50-50 tackles," Brisbon said. "I don't know if temper is the right word, but he is definitely intense. He can battle with anybody, (and) it doesn't matter what size they are."
At times, Wentzel's aggressiveness has got the better of him. In the first two matches of the season he received yellow cards. But as someone praised for his soccer IQ, he knew he had to pick his spots so to not put his team in a position in which it had to play without him.
"They are going to want to win headers and push me off the ball, so you just have to move quicker and play quicker," Wentzel said.
Being smarter, he added, is something he utilizes when going up against 6-foot midfielders from teams such as Simon Fraser or Montana State University-Billings.
As the season has progressed, so, too, has Wentzel's comfort in his new position. He started the season as an outside backer, largely playing with a more defensive-minded approach, but Brisbon decided to try him at the attacking midfielder position because of the glimpses of talent he saw from Wentzel on the offensive side of the ball in practice.
The new position was a drastic change for Wentzel, who had largely only played outside back for a majority of his soccer-playing career. The spot added a new dimension he was somewhat unaccustomed to: space.
"Last spring, there were a few games he tried me at center mid, and I was like, 'Ah, I don't know what is going on," he said.
Brisbon was confident that Wentzel's skill set and mentality would, once honed, fit perfectly into that position.
"You see these attacking tendencies that he has," Brisbon said, "and he is a good finisher ... it has really worked out."
That was without question when Wentzel scored two goals against the University of Mary on Oct. 19, to secure the win.
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for sports updates.
WWU vs. SEATTLE PACIFIC
When: 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 31
Where: Whatcom Community College's Orca Field