By Jim Sullivan
---- — One year ago today, Newburyport soccer player John Spears was toiling away on the junior varsity squad. Today he is about to start his senior season as a varsity co-captain.
“It was really nice to see him elected as captain,” Clippers coach Shawn Bleau said of Spears. “I think the team recognized that he was a leader. He stepped up, and that speaks a lot of him as a player and as a person to be respected by your peers like that.”
The Byfield resident has been playing soccer for eight years, initially playing indoor for Seacoast Academy. But when it came time to look at his high school options, Spears decided on Newburyport based on the strength of the soccer program there. A sweeper, Spears can get loud in the back, and that’s what got him on the varsity squad. But at the start of the 2012 season, he was playing the bridesmaid on the JV squad once again.
“I was a little bit disappointed, but I thought I might as well make the most of it,” Spears said. “Right as we got into the season, I started leading the team from the back. I was really loud back there.”
Playing alongside stopper and current junior Jake Shactman, Spears was able to direct some of the newer players on the more technical aspects of the game. As the season progressed, Bleau noticed Spears’ work ethic, and before he knew it, Spears was playing varsity against Amesbury just after the season’s halfway mark.
“I played stopper while Alex Salah played sweeper,” Spears said of his first varsity tilt. “I played the majority of that game and played fairly well. Coach liked that, and after that, I played on varsity for the rest of the season.”
In fact, once Spears was in a game, he was never taken out.
“John is one of those kids that work hard at it,” said Bleau. “It shows when you work hard at something. You may not be the best player starting, coming right out, but if you work at it and stay with the program; it shows what you can do. And John was perfect for that.”
“It’s such a big step up,” Spears said of varsity. “JV is a lot different than varsity because varsity is much more serious. There is so much more focus on the team.”
It turns out Spears had focus to spare, and his teammates recognized it when it was time to name captains for the upcoming season.
“I honestly didn’t think (I would be voted in as captain),” said Spears. “Because I hadn’t been playing varsity for that long. So when my name got called, obviously I was pumped up and I was really gunning for it.”
Spears will be joining fellow senior Adam Traxler and junior Tom Graham as a tri-captain.
“It’s a lot of weight on my shoulders,” Spears said of his captaincy. “But I feel that with Adam and Tom, we can definitely take and lead the team. And we’re definitely starting to do that.”
But while both of his co-captains play up front, Spears will be filling the considerable shoes of his varsity mentor in the backfield.
“I hope I bring a voice out there,” said Spears. “Alex Salah was really loud. He really talked to the team and made sure that everyone was moving, marking players up. Because that’s what the defense needs.”
The Clippers will need the kind of work ethic Spears brings to the pitch when the season starts next week.
“The Cape Ann League is probably one of the top two leagues in Eastern Massachusetts and in the state,” said Bleau. “So the league is going to be tough. You can’t take any game for granted. A lot of our games come down to a goal, so it’s going to be about who is going to grind it out. Right now I like our chemistry. But we still have to make sure that we have the mentality to finish those games.”