The environment at the Indiana training grounds on a Tuesday in late October is highly spirited.
On the main practice field, freshmen Ryan Wittenbrink, Quinten Helmer and Aidan Morris are deep in a game of soccer tennis.
IU head coach Todd Yeagley watches from a distance while some of the starters exchange their cleats for tennis shoes as practice wraps up for the day.
In the middle of it all is freshman forward Victor Bezerra. He jumps in the game of soccer tennis for a bit before prepping for the weekly media session.
Fellow freshman Josh Penn cracks a joke at Bezerra’s expense as he walks by.
IU assistant coach Danny O’Rourke yells at Bezerra from his car, saying that his mother wants to know “what Vic wants for his lunch tomorrow.”
It’s all part of the culture that’s been built around the IU program. No one’s exempt from a nice one-liner and everyone is part of this bigger family. Bezerra understands that. Even if he’s only been around the program since August.
“It’s always a good time,” Bezerra says with a smile on his face. “We know when to get serious and when to handle business. But we also know when to joke around.”
The Hoosiers went about business this season and finished another regular season undefeated at home. They go into Sunday’s regular-season finale against Michigan State looking to secure a second straight Big Ten title.
This has been a natural adjustment for a player who’s accustomed to playing at the highest level. It wasn’t that long ago he was training along some of the world’s elite.
Victor Bezerra won’t talk much about the time he trained with the Argentinian national team amongst the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.
Not about his training session with Mexico and Raul Jimenez.
He won’t talk much about the time he spent training with European soccer powers A.C. Milan, Chelsea or Barcelona.
He would rather talk about the amazing assist that Penn had to Bezerra to set up his phenomenal finish in a 5-1 victory over Evansville.
Or about how IU is 7-2-1 in its past 10 games and on what he calls “an upwards trend.”
Halftime Highlight: Indiana 3, Ohio State 0.
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) October 30, 2019
It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s at IU anyways. He was a member of the Chicago Fire Academy, an academy that has produced former Hoosier greats Grant Lillard, Andrew Gutman and Jeremiah Gutjahr.
He scored 58 official United States Soccer Development Academy and eight Generation Adidas goals including 22 goals during last year’s campaign en route to being the third best scorer in the central region.
Bezerra found a connection between Chicago and IU. The two programs share similar ideals including a dedication to detail and a family environment.
“The program, the history itself, is something I’m very proud to be a part of,” Bezerra said. “It’s a family. Once you come to IU, you become a part of something much bigger than yourself.”
Bezerra was a member of a recruiting class that was immediately tasked with high expectations. The question about this season’s Hoosier squad was how they would replace 10 of 11 starters from the College Cup team a year ago.
Penn, Morris and Bezerra were the three four-starts that figured to feature into the Starting XI. Herbert Endeley, Roman Celentano, Brett Bebej and Maouloune Goumballe have helped develop this freshman class into one of the strongest in the nation.
“It’s a great group of guys,” Bezerra said. “I knew a few of them before coming here. We’ve gelled pretty well together. I feel like we’re already family. It’s been great playing with some of these guys and I’m excited for the future.”
Bezerra wasted no time making himself a regular in Yeagley’s first-team squad. He got the start on the opening night of the season. In the second game of the campaign against UCLA, Bezerra brought IU level after controlling a deflected ball and firing it into the net.
He scored again in IU’s conference opener against Wisconsin when he stepped up to the spot and buried home a penalty kick:
10′ | Indiana 1, Wisconsin 0
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) September 20, 2019
Yeagley has shown an abundance of confidence in his young forward this season. Bezerra was given the chance to be one of the penalty-kick takers. When junior forward Ian Black missed time with injury, Bezerra was the first option and went 1-for-2 from the spot.
“We had high hopes for Vic,” Yeagley said. “With the freshmen, we knew there was going to be opportunity with all departures, he was one we hoped could step in and help. He’s done that and some more. We’re not shocked by what he’s done and we know there’s still more there.”
Bezerra can’t be labeled to a certain position. He flows around the field like a natural midfielder but darts through the attack like a true striker.
It’s too early in his development to limit Bezerra to a certain area of the field because he has the ability to make an impact anywhere on the field.
Yeagley has called Bezerra one of the best finishers that IU has on its roster. That’s pretty high praise coming from a MAC Hermann trophy winner himself.
But as time goes on, he’s going to find himself right in the middle of the Hoosier attack. He’s too gifted of a forward to be on the bench. Too gifted to play back in the formation.
What Yeagley has in Bezerra isn’t a talented freshman. What Yeagley has is the next best striker in collegiate soccer.
“I like to think of myself as a little bit more technical than a No. 9,” Bezerra said. “I have a really good finishing trait but I like to get on the ball and send passes forward to my teammates. I think that’s a really big part of the game. I grew up playing as a No. 10 so I’ve got good experience playing as a wing and on the outside and up top.”
Both of Bezerra’s parents were born in Brazil and he has dual nationality between the two countries. He’s trained with a prominent club out of Rio de Janeiro, Fluminense FC, quite regularly.
Both his parents have been in attendance for matches this season. While he still visits back in Brazil and makes trips back to Chicago, Bloomington is his new home.
It’s fitting that he’s made Bloomington his home so quickly given how much success IU has at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
“It’s something every soccer player needs to do, play away games and get booed,” Bezerra said. “You have to cut all that out. We wanted to get our tenacity back. Whether we win or lose, we take that opportunity as a chance to get better.”
Perhaps that was the final wakeup call that IU needed as it heads towards securing a second consecutive Big Ten title and a potential deep run in the postseason.
Whatever questions were swirling around IU after the Maryland loss have disappeared for the time being.
This team has hit its stride as the regular season winds down. You can see it in the last three games where IU has scored 11 goals.
You can see it in the practice sessions where the drills are competitive and spirits are high.
And in Bezerra, you can see it. Nine points over his past three games. A natural vibe in training sessions with a very young team.
But if he chooses to stay more than one year in Bloomington, what you see is the next best striker in collegiate soccer.