A Falcon will join the WolfPack next season as Jackson Gardner makes the next-level leap.
The Sardis secondary school goaltender has commited to Thompson Rivers University after impressing at an evaluation camp in July.
“I went there (Kamloops) for a weekend in the summer, played in one game and two training sessions and they offered me a spot on the team,” the 16 year old said.
Gardner is an early signing.
His high school season has just begun and there wasn’t any pressing urgency to get things done.
But many players let these things linger throughout the season and suffer the effects of stress and anxiety. Gardner prefered to get it out of the way early.
“I wasn’t expecting to get a real offer until March or around that area, but the perfect one came about,” Gardner said. “After doing research I didn’t see a better one coming so I locked it down early.
“I guess the time was right for me.”
John Antulov is the TRU coach who is gambling on the athleticism of the young keeper. As far as Gardner knows, Antulov only saw him play at that summer camp, and he’s grateful the coach was willing to take a chance on him.
Antulov has already had an impact on Gardner’s game.
“During the first training session, I can’t remember the exact words he said to me but it was something like, ‘Jackson, get out there!'” he recalled.
Antulov likes his keepers to play with their feet and function as an outlet for a defender under pressure.
He doesn’t want his keepers playing on their goal-lines and that’s normally not an issue with Gardner.
But the circumstances of the tryout had Jackson playing cautious until Antulov barked at him.
“And right after he said that I came out of my shell and started playing my game,” Gardner said. “Honestly, before that camp, playing with my feet was probably one of my weaknesses, but ever since then I’ve tried to implement that into my game and it’s been working out really well for me.
The teenager, who came up through the Chilliwack FC system and has played for Surrey United in the B.C. High Performance League the last four seasons, sagely says that goaltending is an easy job to do but a hard job to do well.
Jackson follows in the footsteps of his dad, John, who was a university (Bishop’s) and semi-pro goaltender. John’s been a fantastic resource for tips on technique and knows more than anyone else the pressure that comes with the position.
“I’ve been playing goalie since I was 10 years old, so six years now, and I started playing it because of my dad,” Gardner said. “I keep playing it because it’s so much fun.
“You are differentiated from everyone else on the field where you can use your hands and you are the main guy.
“It is a lot of pressure, but it always pays off.”
Because he commited so early, Gardner is able to focus 100 per cent on getting ready for the next level.
He feels he needs to get stronger to deal with the bigger, physical forwards who will come rumbling into his 18 yard box.
“In university soccer they hit hard and you need to be able to take those,” he said. “I’m already pretty strong, but I still need some work and I’m starting a training program to get ready.
“I’m just excited to get started.”
One of his Sardis coaches, Shaun Calver, has no doubt he’ll succeed at TRU.
“Jackson is a great shot stopper who rarely spills the ball, he is great with the ball at his feet and distributes from the back very well,” Calver said. “On and off the field nothing fazes him. He always has a smile on his face and that’s why he’s one of our team captains.”
Get TRU men’s soccer info online at tru.ca/athletics/teams/msoc.html