Athletic, Academic All Star

By STEVE KAUFMAN
Contributing Writer

Sam Stockton has a plan.

He’s going to Indiana University next fall, where he intends to play soccer. At 145 pounds, he knows he’ll be encountering bigger players. So despite having won nearly every Kentucky school soccer award for boys – he was named the commonwealth’s Mr. Soccer this season – he’s been going to the gym regularly this, his senior, year, to run and work out and eating well. But not so much that he puts on too much weight and loses his speed of course.

Those who know Sam – his parents, his coaches, his teammates and the staff at Trinity High School – know that having a plan is nothing new for this extraordinary 18-year-old.

“I started playing at age 3, in Bowling Green,” he told me recently, sitting in a conference room inside the St. Matthews school building on Shelbyville Road. “And I was infatuated with it, right from the beginning. I used to stay after practices and, when I was about 5 or 6, I asked my parents if I could go to soccer camp.”

Some parents have to push their children. Not Kate and Jason Stockton. In Louisville, to which the family moved when Sam was in first grade, he played club soccer and always found a coach who put in the extra time with him.

“When I was with Javanon, the owner of their indoor facility told me I’d have to pay rent because I was always there,” he says.

At 11, playing for the Louisville Soccer Alliance, he picked out a skilled teammate and tried to emulate him – what he calls “making him my carrot.

“On every team, I’d find a carrot to inspire me and drive me, to see what he does well and try to improve enough to match that.”

When he was a freshman at Trinity, he was initially placed on the Junior Varsity squad. “My coach said I wasn’t big enough,” he recalls. “I took that as a challenge and worked to overcome it.” He did within a couple of weeks.

As a central midfielder, he’s as proud of his 21 assists this year as of his 14 goals. In fact, when I asked him what his totals were for four years, he knew immediately that he’d had 88 assists, but struggled with his goal totals (45).

Don’t think, though, that this is some one-dimensional soccer geek. He has a 3.9 GPA in Trinity’s demanding academic program, is a member of National Honor Society, and hopes to blend an academic scholarship with an athletic scholarship at IU when the financial packages come out.

How does one do both? “Balancing sports and academics is about organization and structure,” he says. “There’s enough time in the day to get everything done; you just have to have the will to do it.”

And the discipline. “I have to ask myself, ‘Do I want this A, or do I want to watch this football game?”

So though he has accumulated sufficient soccer accolades – including All-State and High School All-American, as well as being named the Offensive MVP in Kentucky – he’s as proud of the All-Academic awards he and the team have won. And he plans to enter the rigorous Kelley Business School program at IU.

He’ll also be entering the demanding soccer program at IU. The Hoosiers have won eight national championships, and have the most wins in Division I play. They’ve also had the Big Ten to themselves, winning 14 regular season conference titles in 24 years. They were NCAA champions in 2012.

That excites him, of course. “It’s a great program and I know I won’t be expected to carry the load.” It wasn’t the wins that attracted him, though. On a campus visit, he says, “I saw that all the guys couldn’t get enough of the sport; they wanted to go practice. They were all soccer junkies, like me.”

Beyond college, soccer seems a yet-unformed image. “I’d love to play pro, but that’s a few years off.”

He also knows the 2016 Olympics are coming up, in Brazil. “What a blast that would be, to play in the home of Pelé,” he says, or of Hernanes and Renato, the great Brazilian center midfielders. “But I have no idea how teams are chosen.”

Mostly, he wants to go off to Bloomington and be just a normal college kid who spends time on his iPad and playing ping pong, when he’s not on the soccer field.

Earlier this fall, he told the Courier-Journal,  “I love playing golf every Sunday at the public courses. I’m not very good, but it’s fun.”

Does anyone spot another challenge? Does anyone want to predict how soon before Sam Stockton is playing scratch golf?