Editors Note: The UNC Asheville Athletics Communications Office does articles about former Bulldog student-athletes. Today's feature is on former men's soccer player - Aytekin Yildiz
Former men’s soccer player Aytekin Yildiz didn’t have much of a choice when he picked UNC Asheville as his college more than 30 years ago.
Things worked out pretty well, and as a result the native of Turkey has been in North Carolina ever since.
Yildiz was attending English Language Institute in Sacred Heart College, while his brother Ali was going to UNC Asheville. Ali instructed his younger brother to come to UNC Asheville.
“I really didn’t have much of a choice in which college to go to as my brother said I needed to come here,” said Yildiz. “So UNC Asheville was where I came to school.”
Aytekin had been a standout soccer player in Turkey and decided to walk on at UNC Asheville.
“I watched them play a little bit and decided I wanted to join them. I have to thank Hank Komodowski (Asheville’s head soccer coach) for giving me the opportunity to play,” commented Yildiz. “I enjoyed my experience playing soccer.”
And UNC Asheville enjoyed Aytekin playing for the Bulldogs. He helped lead the Blue & White to three straight winning seasons from 1981-84. Yildiz finished his career as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 53 goals. In addition, he holds the single-season record for goals with 20 in 1982.
Komodowski, who took over the Bulldog program in the summer of 1981, found out about Aytekin right before the season started.
“I was taking over the UNC Asheville program in the late summer of 1981, about three weeks prior to the first game of the season,” remembered Komodowski. “I hadn’t had a chance to recruit, and I had 15 players returning from a team that went 1-11-2 in 1980. Only about five of them were of college caliber.
“Luckily, one of those players was Hassan Inan, a junior from Istanbul. He told me about another Turkish player who he had met in registration and had played soccer before. That was Aytekin Yildiz,” added Komodowski. “Needless to say, I hustled over to registration and met Aytekin, who said he didn't know if he was going to register for enough hours to be full time -- I kinda convinced him he should and said he needed to come out for the soccer team. He said he had played before, but was injured and had not been doing much in soccer for a while.”
Thankfully for Komodowski and the Bulldog soccer program, Aytekin chose to come out for the team and made an immediate impact.
“So he did indeed come out, and four years later had scored all kinds of goals from everywhere.... never striking it hard or cannon-like.... mostly a 3/4 speed shot that was where the goalie was not,” declared Komodowski. “He led NAIA District 26 in scoring several times. That freshman year we only went 3-12 with that ragged bunch, but the next year we added some players around him and Ulrich Dietrich and went 12-5-2.... We had three great seasons in a row, culminated by a 20th national NAIA ranking in his senior season.”
Aytekin scored 53 career goals for the Bulldogs. Komodowski remembers most of them but has a special fondness for a goal against NAIA power Erskine.
“The greatest goal he ever scored came at Erskine in 1984,” stated Komodowsk. “They were ranked fourth in the country and it was their homecoming game.
“He got a cross from Ulrich (Dietrich) and made three Erskine players and their goalie dive the wrong way three times with his fakes in front of the goal before he tucked it away with this left foot,” remembered Komodowski. “We won 1-0 and I still have the video of the match. After the game, you can see them (taking) hundreds of helium balloons back into the gym. They were planning to release some balloons each time Erskine scored. They had a lot of balloons to take back to the gym.”
Aytekin didn’t just succeed in soccer during his time at UNC Asheville. He was an excellent student and had two full-time jobs outside the school. Yildiz helped coach at Asheville School. He also worked at the then renowned Asheville restaurant, Inn on the Plaza. Aytekin was the manager there, and that began his journey into the hospitality industry.
“Yes, I was pretty busy my senior year,” remembered Yildiz. “To graduate, I had to take 21 hours, and luckily I was able to get through that year and graduate in 1985.
“I enjoyed coaching and thought about that as a career,” said Yildiz. “But I was lucky enough to get into the hospitality industry at school, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”
Yildiz graduated with a degree in Economics and Finance.
Aytekin has been a mover and shaker in the hospitality business across the state since graduating from UNC Asheville. He started in Chapel Hill at the famous Hotel Europa before moving to the Carolina Inn and then to the Sheraton Crabtree in Raleigh.
He’s now the Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Promise Management Inc. Aytekin ovesees hotels and restaurants that are under the Promise umbrella. Much of his attention goes to the four hotels that Promise owns, including the Sundance Plaza Hotel & Spa in Winston-Salem.
“You have to know your guests and what they want,” declared Yildiz. “You have to know your community that you work in and reach out to them and make a difference. You have to know your employees and make them feel equal and part of your organization.
“It’s like being on a winning soccer team,” added Yildiz. “Everyone needs to know their roles and how to fill those roles when called upon.”
And an education from UNC Asheville helps as well.
“I received an excellent education from UNC Asheville that I use every day in my job,” admitted Yildiz. “I will never forget Dr. Joe Sulock (Economics professor at UNC Asheville). He was such a big influence on my senior year and so supportive. Plus, he kept me in line, as well.
“Some other professors I remember were Dr. Shirley Browning and Milton Ready,” added Yildiz. “They were great teachers who worked with me and allowed me to do well.”
Aytekin was recognized in 2009 for his play on the soccer field when he was inducted into the UNC Asheville Athletics Hall of Fame.
“It was a very humbling moment,” stated Yildiz. “I may have put the ball into the back of the net, but soccer is a true team sport, and there’s no way I could have had that success without my teammates. Everybody I played with contributed to my success.”
He has a special place in his heart for former teammate and fellow Hall of Fame member Ulrich Dietrich. Ulrich was a midfielder on those great Bulldog teams and was the first men’s soccer player to ever go into the Hall of Fame. They were great friends in college, and it’s a friendship that lasts to this day.
“Ulrich is such a great friend from the start. He helped get me to come to try out for the team back in 1981, and I just talked to him earlier today,” explained Yildiz. “Ulrich helped make me what I am today, and I am truly grateful.”