When the Mattituck High School boys soccer team gathered for its first training session last August, the Tuckers had but one goalkeeper in camp and he was a freshman.
James Jacob was thrown into the deep end of the Suffolk County League VII pool and did not sink. He blossomed into a top goalkeeper.
When the Tuckers gathered for preseason practice last Monday, coach Will Hayes counted five keepers for his varsity and junior varsity teams.
“It’s a nice thing to see,” he said.
The same could be said for Jacobs last fall as he picked up invaluable experience playing every just about minute in the net. Jacobs was so good he was named to the All-League VII team.
“He could have gone and regressed or he could have stood up to the challenge and become a dominant goalkeeper,” Hayes said. “If you look at him now, I watched him play all summer and I watched him play in club ball and he’s a dominant goalkeeper. He’s strong. He manages the game well. He’s vocal. He’s more assertive, which is something for a young goalkeeper that’s really hard to do.”
Whatever butterflies Jacobs might have had last year are gone now. He couldn’t wait for the preseason to begin.
“I’m very excited, actually, because its the start of soccer and I just love playing school ball,” he said. “I know what’s going to happen so I am expecting a lot right now because we have to run two miles in the afternoon.”
Goalkeepers traditionally are not known for their speed or running prowess.
“It’s going to be fun this year,” Jacobs said. “I feel fit, I feel ready. I’ve been playing club ball over the summer. I still had my foot on the ball.”
Jacobs and his teammates feel they have some unfinished business. After winning five consecutive county titles, Mattituck (12-5) was eliminated in the semifinals last year. The Tuckers would like to wear the crown again when the Suffolk Class B final is held at Diamond in the Pines in Coram on Oct. 29.
“Definitely. I really hope we’re going far,” Jacobs said.
The same goes for junior Axel Rodriguez-Canal.
“I am thinking of getting the team to the county final,” he said, “and for myself, score at least 25 goals.”
Rodriguez-Canal tallied 15 goals in 2015, leading all sophomores in the county. As a freshman two years ago, the striker scored a goal as a substitute in the New York State Class B semifinals and was on the sidelines with current teammates Carlos Campos and Chris Waggoner when the Tuckers won the state title.
That championship feeling is something Rodriguez-Canal would love to share with his teammates.
“We got a great team,” Rodriguez-Canal said. “I would like to go so my friends can go as a team [and] they can feel the same as I did.”
Before accomplishing that, there is a lot of work to be done.
A better day could not have been picked for the first day of high school soccer practice across the state. After the oppressive heat and humidity of previous weeks, a breeze from Long Island Sound made the temperatures feel more like the fall, not late August.
The only distraction might have been several hundred feet away by workers who replaced the old baseball backstop for a new one.
Hayes? He just felt blessed that 50 players came out for both teams.
He said, “In a small community, it never ceases to amaze to see how many kids you can get to come out for a team for a small school and how big the enthusiasm is behind it.”
Photo caption: James Jacobs has blossomed into a “dominant” goalkeeper, Mattituck coach Will Hayes said. (Credit: Garret Meade)