When Jason Keever became head soccer coach at Northfield High School in 2015, the school didn’t exist. “I was looking at mockups,” he says. “There was no school, no field, nothing.” Just six years later, the Northfield Nighthawks are the undefeated 4A state champs.
So, how did they find such meteoric success?
Keever says it isn’t fair to say it came fast. And it isn’t fair to say it came easy. “I’ve heard the rumors that people think we have a bunch of DA (Development Academy) players. It’s not true. I think only two of our boys play ECNL (Elite Clubs National League). We’ve lost game after game after game by one goal in overtime. We’ve had a torn ACL, injuries, and multiple health issues. We should have gone to the playoffs last year, but after CHSAA cut the playoff field by half, we were squeezed out. These boys have faced so much and they’ve continued to believe and work and work and work despite so much failure.
“All year long it’s been Northfield and Mullen as the one and two, so it’s fitting we met them at the state championship. Mullen is very good. They had the better run of play, but we knew exactly what we were doing. We kept the lead, kept the goal, and sometimes that’s all you need.”
Max Garfield, co-captain with Eduardo Hernandez since he was a sophomore, says, “We all felt the pressure. I think a lot of us hadn’t played in a game of that magnitude. One of our main goals all season has been scoring first. Other than our first game, we’ve done it every time. It was super important because as soon as we got that goal, we changed our formation and started playing more defense. It gave us a leg up especially against a team like Mullen that’s super offensive, and I think that’s one of the reasons we were able to hold them off.”
Keever credits their success to team-building. “I can’t overstate how important it is for them to take their minds off the game and just be together.” An example is playing a trivia game where correct answers earn penalty shots. Keever draws a goofy cartoon mockup of their opponents on the whiteboard, and the boys take aim with wadded-up wet toilet paper.
The team’s vision, which has remained unchanged since Keever drafted it in 2015, mentions moral character more than soccer; it reads in part: “Our team will be composed of players who desire to sharpen each other and become better men; players who choose others before themselves. Our soccer ambitions will be fierce, but will always subordinate to our pursuit of robust moral character. The boys added their own goals, which include, “building strong relationships, creating a positive reputation in the community, and leaving something meaningful behind for younger classmen.”
“They’re humble. They’re not arrogant. They’ve never once forgotten their roots or the experiences they’ve gone through. And they approach every game with the knowledge they haven’t won it yet,” says Keever.
Garfield says, “I think coach is the whole reason we were successful. He’s super invested in us and the program, and I feel like that poured into the team, and everyone became committed. We had a lot of extra people willing to commit their time, like our weightlifting coach Harry Glor. We didn’t win alone.”
Photos by Sean Dougherty