MORAGA, Calif. -- Alan and Sean Williams have played exactly the same role any other freshman would when joining a side as strong as the defending West Coast Conference champion Saint Mary's men's soccer team.
They've fought for playing time this season like typical underclassmen, and worked to fit into a program that is trending upwards under the direction of head coach Adam Cooper.
It's how they got to Moraga that takes a little explaining.
Natives of Tokyo, Japan, the recruiting process began for the two brothers about a year and a half ago. They started contacting coaches, trying to get noticed by American college programs while playing both high school and club soccer halfway around the world.
That effort continued until last summer, when Alan and Sean had the chance to play as guests on the Honolulu Bulls club team at the San Diego Surf Cup.
"We contacted a few coaches that were strong in the WCC and obviously Saint Mary's had been doing really well," Alan said. "We asked Coop and his coaching staff to come watch if they could. Actually, I didn't know if they were watching the games or not but when we got back to Tokyo, he contacted us and it all started from there."
In fact, Cooper and his staff had known about the Williams brothers well before heading to San Diego. When he and assistant coach Leonard Griffin finally got the chance to see them play, the Gaels' coaches made a point to watch.
"They sent a video (last summer) and on the video you could tell these two have got something and that they can play," Cooper said. "Leonard and I watched them play in San Diego and we liked what we saw."
After the tournament, Alan and Sean had no idea who had seen them or if they'd impressed anyone at all.
Back home in Tokyo after the tournament, the phone call came.
"Actually, we never even saw (Cooper)," said Richard Williams, Alan and Sean's father. "He dropped us a line when we got back to Tokyo and invited us over."
Cooper wasn't new to recruiting brothers. He had already watched the Griders, Justin and Jordan, flourish as productive players at Saint Mary's. Same with Tariq and Ismail Adam, brothers who landed in Moraga and earned playing time.
But to get Alan and Sean to make a commitment from halfway around the world, the Gaels coach wasn't going to bring one brother along just to get the other.
Instead, he wanted each on his own merits.
"We've had a couple twins on our team before and now these two where we want to make sure we treat them both as individuals," Cooper said. "We thought both of them could certainly fit into our team and we wanted to recruit both of them but at the end of the day, we treated them both as individuals."
Once on their recruiting visit, Alan and Sean decided that Saint Mary's was the place for them.
"We definitely weren't looking at schools and going there together (exclusively)," said Sean. "If Alan would have gone somewhere, I wouldn't necessarily have gone there. We both thought Saint Mary's was a good fit."
By the time they arrived as freshmen, the focus turned to making the most of the opportunity. Having grown up with a style in Japan that relied more on passing and moving, the brothers had to adjust to a level of physicality they weren't used to.
That took its toll early, as even practices were much different than what Alan and Sean experienced in Japan.
"I've gradually learned to hold my ground and use my body more," Alan said. "I try to incorporate my skills that I picked up in Japan but I feel like in America, it's a mixture of skills and being physical."
The change in styles has gone well. Alan converted an overtime game-winner against Santa Clara on Oct. 3, and Cooper praised the work ethic of both brothers, saying they've both worked extremely hard to adapt to a new lifestyle both on and off the field.
Even with the rapid adjustments, there are still a few things that have taken some getting used to.
"Definitely the food. People try to take Alan and I out to Japanese places but it's not quite the same," Sean said. "We got our parents to send some stuff, like Cup of Noodles from Japan. They're different."
If their ability to adjust off the field is any indication, it won't be long before both Williams brothers are leaving their own mark on the Saint Mary's men's soccer program.