Heading into the 2010 season, the Statesboro boys soccer team wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the goalkeeper position.
Now, the Blue Devils know that Jonathan Gary will give them a chance to win on any given night.
While Gary is a senior, this season marks his first year as a starter.
In past seasons, Gary had been a backup to Matt Campbell – whose solid play in goal earned him 2009 Region 2-AAAA Player of the Year honors and led Statesboro to the region championship.
“To be honest, I was a little worried about the goalkeeping situation coming into the year,” said Statesboro coach Chad Prosser. “Jonathan didn’t have a lot of experience, and there wasn’t anyone to really push him to get better. But he has improved immensely throughout the year and has exceeded all of our expectation.”
As the season got underway, there was definitely a sharp learning curve for Gary. The Devils endured some early losses, but the Statesboro keeper was able to turn his trial by fire into a learning experience for the rest of the season.
“I was nervous out there,” said Gary. “I was really concerned with doing everything right. I still get nervous before games, but now I’ve got a lot of confidence in my ability to do a good job.”
With the games mounting up, Gary’s increased exposure to game situations allowed his skills to develop, and as the region schedule arrived, he was fully prepared to help the Devils make another run.
“I knew that I would have to step up to help my team,” said Gary. “I learned a lot from watching Matt last year and tried to work on things I had seen him do. All of the experience definitely helped me to get better. I’m definitely better now than at the beginning (of the season).”
“All of the experience that he’s gotten this year has helped,” said Prosser. “It’s given him a lot of confidence. He’s put in a lot of time and worked very hard to get better, and it’s really showing.”
With Gary improving each game, the rest of the Devils have followed suit.
Defensive lapses led to some cheap goals for opponents early on, and a few losses at the beginning of the season could have easily been avoided with better defensive execution.
Now, the rest of the back line has grown along with Gary to turn what was once a liability into another strength for a team that could be peaking at just the right time.
“Our defense has really been big for us,” said Gary. “Almost all of us were starting for the first time, so everyone had to learn how to play together. Now we’re playing really well. They’ve really helped me out a few times, so I have to give credit for a lot of my good games to the rest of the defense.”
Tuesday night, Gary was able to put one more win in the book during Statesboro’s senior night.
Effingham managed two goals, but Gary’s solid play through the first 60 minutes allowed the Devils to take a commanding 4-0 lead, making the late Rebel offense inconsequential to the final result.
The win clinched the No. 3 seed out of Region 2-AAAA for the Devils, who will now travel to Evans – No. 2 seed out of Region 3-AAAA – for a first round matchup in the GHSA state playoffs.
“I’m excited to get an opportunity to play in the playoffs,” said Gary. “I think that we’re a really good team and can go far. Every game can be the last one from now on though, so we’re just focusing on Evans and making sure we’re ready to go.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.