Fort Lewis College men’s soccer player Loic Jean-Baptiste’s craftiness was clear to see from the moment he first arrived on campus. A late addition to this year’s squad, the Frenchman has scored a team-high seven goals for the Skyhawks this season and four game-winning goals, including Thursday’s strike against Colorado Mesa University. He has helped the Skyhawks reach the conference tournament semifinals for the first time since 2016, and given his steady form, three goals in his last seven games, there’s no signs of him letting up.
“When I arrived here, it was a Wednesday, and on Thursday, I played my first game with the team,” Jena-Baptiste said in October. “I then played on a Saturday, and it all began so quickly. My first month was good, but I can do better, I think.”
He has been. Jean-Baptiste set a personal goal of recording at least 10 points between goals and assists, and is nearly there at eight. If he’s not celebrating a goal with his teammates, he is directly influencing play on the left side of the field. More than anyone else, Jean-Baptiste helps the Skyhawks offense flow. Fort Lewis College head coach David Oberholtzer described Jean-Baptiste as clinical, but also said his movement is crafty.
“He’s really intelligent in his movement, and while he doesn’t look fast, he’ll be five yards past you in an instant,” Oberholtzer said. “It’s one of those things where he works smarter at times than anyone else on the pitch. The overall ground he covers might be a bit less than other players, but he still works incredibly hard.”
Growing up on the island of Martinique, he was inspired to play like famed French soccer stars Anthony Martial and Thierry Henry, both of whom were known as poachers and have roots on the Caribbean island. He and his family moved to France at the age of 10, where they lived in Paris.
“My life in Paris was very different from here. I come from one of the toughest neighborhoods in all of France,” Jean-Baptiste said. “It was a lot of criminality and things like that. Everyone in my place wanted to make a life for themselves and find a way out, if it was through sport, a good job, art or music. I think it was a great opportunity for me to come here.”
He was discovered at a young age and was signed by the famous French club Olympique Lyonnais in their youth academy. He also played in one match for Aubervilliers in the French third division last season. He said the way he found Fort Lewis was through a French Football Federation program that sends players to the United States for college, where they can continue to develop as players.
He has noticed a big difference in the way American soccer is played.
“In French football, there’s a lot of tactics and technical players,” Jean-Baptiste said. “In France, we like the one-on-one confrontation between a defender and an attacker. Here, it’s more collective football. I think everyone over here are good players, it’s really good, and I enjoy the style.”
While the style of play is suiting Jean-Baptiste, so is the unique experience of playing in Durango. He has enjoyed American culture, and said that every time the team hits the road, it’s a new chance to see the country.
“I visited New York when I first arrived, but Durango is so different and natural,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Every time we have an away match, I am always taking photos on my phone and am sending them to my brother and my family. It’s very different and very beautiful.”
Jean-Baptiste has taken what he’s learned, and also used his tremendous strength to his advantage. The one on-one style of play to create space has worked well with Fort Lewis. He has scored two overtime winners, both of which came in the opening two minutes of the extra period. His first game-winning goal came against Adams State in mid-September, and he helped upset Colorado School of Mines with a goal just 30 seconds into the overtime on Oct. 25.
After gritting out a 1-0 win Thursday over Colorado Mesa, he hopes to be a part of another win, when the No. 6 seed Skyhawks will travel to the Front Range to take on No. 2 Regis in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Oberhotlzer believes Jean-Baptiste has that special something that makes the difference in big moments throughout the season. He is hopeful to see it again on Sunday.
“He certainly has that kind of impact factor,” Oberholtzer said. “When you’re looking at a championship team, most teams have one or two guys that can make the difference, and I think we have the makeup of a team that has the ability and potential, and he’s a huge piece of that.”
While Jean-Baptiste knows he’s come a long way in his first season with the Skyhawks, the Frenchman still has lofty ambitions for this season, and beyond. Whether it’s a bit of craftiness down the left flank, or a smooth finish from in close, Jean-Baptiste believes in himself, and his teammates.
“I think we can win the conference championship this year,” Jean-Baptiste said. “By the time I graduate, I would like to win the national championship. We are talented enough to do both, and I think this team can do that.”