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Friends for Life

Published: November 12, 2019

By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Communications
Making then losing friends has been a common theme of Zarin Tuten's life.
Until he got to Lehigh.
"I've never lived in a place longer than three years," said Tuten. "My mom is in the semiconductor industry (semiconductors are used in many electric circuits). She jumps around from job-to-job, company-to-company. College is the first time I've actually lived in a place for four years."
Tuten's background is far from typical. Growing up, he was home schooled due to moving around the country so much.
Meanwhile, Zarin found a way to play soccer from a very young age.
"I started out playing at the YMCA when I was very young in Arizona, then moved to Oregon, then back to Arizona, then Virginia where my personal development really took off," said Tuten.
By that time, Zarin was in his early teens.
"I was playing with a bunch of kids who are now professionals, like Chris Durkin who used to play with D.C. United and now plays in Europe," said Tuten. "Playing against those types of players really pushes your own development. That's when soccer really became a passion of mine, realizing I could play college and/or professionally one day."
Tuten continued to develop as he moved to New York and eventually Texas around the time of his college recruitment. Despite being home schooled, he found plenty of opportunities to play at a high level.
"When I was high-school aged, I was in the Lonestar Soccer Club," said Tuten. "Playing against those kids every single day, they're all very high-level players. The academy system in the United States (in which Lonestar is part) takes all the best players from each state and pins them against each other in big showcases. One was in Florida where I got recruited to play in college."
Tuten was heavily recruited, but suffered some injuries that deterred several schools from offering.
"Coaches said they didn't know if I would come back the same," said Tuten. "But Coach (Ryan) Hess was really nice to me throughout the process, stuck with me, cared about me and was constantly checking up on me. That won me over."
Tuten was at Lehigh for the right reasons, to combine a great education with top-notch athletics. And while his classmates were dealing with "typical" challenges freshmen face, Tuten faced unique challenges.
He was coming from the Southwest to an entirely new environment in a totally new part of the country.
"I didn't have Instagram, didn't have Snapchat, didn't have Twitter," he said. "I was a completely off-the-grid kid. I came here having never talked to a girl and not having friends that lasted for any long amount of time because I was constantly moving. I came into the school my quirky self, not really having a personality developed yet. I was at a point when I had to decide who I wanted to be, the personality I wanted to take on, because I didn't have anything in the past to go off of."
You may often hear that college is a time for one to find himself (or herself). That was especially true for Tuten.
"I've found that I'm someone who tries to bring a smile to the people I see every day, which is very cliché to say, but very hard to do at the same time," he said. "I don't go out of my way to try and make people happy who don't vibe with me. The people who stick around, the people who truly are your friends, are the ones you can impact positively every day.
"Because of my background of consistently moving, it's easier for me to take people who aren't good for me out of my life because I had been naturally doing it for the past 18 years leading up to college," Tuten continued. "I was so used to leaving everything I had behind me and just pick up shop and start somewhere else."
The most recent "somewhere else" for Zarin is Lehigh, where he has thrived.
"Z has learned to focus on what he can control, to not worry about things he can't control and to do his job well," said Lehigh head coach Dean Koski. "This approach, along with his continued commitment to learning and getting better, has enabled Z to be a first team All-League player and helped us be one of the top teams in the league this season."
As Tuten's identity has developed over the last four years, his confidence has only grown.
"Freshman year, I was a very nervous person," he said. "I had a lot of nervous habits due to some past experiences. Justin Worley, who was a senior at the time, took me under his wing and showed me how to play the position at the collegiate level."
Tuten started 10 games as a freshman, and has started all but two games over the last three seasons (only missing those two contests due to injury).
"Sophomore year, we had a much better season," said Tuten. "The defense was pretty good, but we had a very good culture back there in terms of everyone supporting each other. We'd get scored on at times, but we were in it together. I believe that was the biggest transformative year for me. School started going better, and things got more natural socially.
"Then the past two years, I've had a lot of confidence going into every single game," Tuten continued. "I have the Goalie of the Year playing behind me (Will Smith) and I've always had good forwards and midfielders in front of me. They make my job easy, so I can go out there with confidence and know they're all going to do their jobs.
"I just have to focus on mine, which Coach Koski has been reiterating to me ever since sophomore year."
Tuten has been successful in doing his job (and doing it well), which has translated to a large number of wins for Lehigh, and small number of goals against.
"Zarin's role is to ensure that we are organized, containing the other team's forwards, winning the aerial battles and beginning our attack through his distribution of the ball," said Koski. "Z is a creature of habit and maintains an important pregame ritual that sets him up for high-level performance, game in and game out."
Tuten's last game(s) as a Lehigh Mountain Hawk is/are quickly approaching. The Mountain Hawks are the No. 1 seed in the Patriot League, winning the program's first regular season championship since 2006.
"The boys are really close," said Tuten. "The coaches work us hard, which creates a bond that we're going through it together. Once you're on the field, the coaches have done their part and it's just you and your teammates on the field.  
"We always try to pull in the same direction. We all take hard classes. We all get beat up academically. We're just happy to relieve stress when we go to the other side of the mountain (Goodman Campus)."
Stress of finding a post-graduate job is already relieved for Tuten, having secured a position at a Big Four public accounting firm in New York City, KPMG.
"I'll be working with deal advisory, which includes mergers and acquisitions," said Tuten, a double major in accounting and finance. "It brings in a little bit of finance, but is more heavily focused on accounting and accounting advisory services."
Zarin's parents are both engineers, but he wanted to create his own path, which he's certainly done successfully in securing one of the top jobs in the public accounting firm.
"My mom and dad both worked at Intel together and it's actually where they met," said Tuten. "I didn't want to go into that space because my mom is considered one of the best in the country and I didn't want to live in her shadow."
There's no doubt Zarin Tuten has created his own identity as a student, athlete and person. Perhaps most importantly, he has positively impacted the people around him.
Tuten just wants to make sure he keeps those friends for life.
"My Lehigh time is coming to an end and I really don't want to go through that whole process again of losing friends and starting all over," he said. "I'm definitely going to push my class, and the guys below, me to stay in touch.
"A lot of us will be heading to New York next year to work and I'll probably live with a few of them, or live near them. We've been playing together for four years now and Lehigh soccer is something that really brings people together."
No matter what Tuten's future brings, one thing will stay with Tuten for the rest of his life – the Lehigh men's soccer family.

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