36 million. That’s the total number of participants in youth sports ages 5-18 as of this past March, per Statistic Brain. 60 percent are to resume their playing in their sport outside of school, with just 20 percent of the youth community have shown the desire to improve their sports skills. Rowan soccer’s Jake Connors is one of those every five that want to improve their game. Being pushed to the limit both physically and mentally is what has made him the player he is.
“I played on a high-level team when I was younger,” Connors said. “We were always top-five in the state. So, being trained by high-level coaches and eventually being in an academy league, I finally realized this is what I want to keep doing. It’s the only thing I had been doing in my life.”
An ESPN study in 2013 showed that, of all grades from K-12, 61 percent of boys have stated that “sports are a big part of who they are.” Connors is no different. Like many other kids, he was introduced to the “big three” of athletics, if you will. Baseball, football and soccer/basketball. Fortunately, it was the latter that stuck right away and has been by his side all these years later.
“Growing up, I had my parents that put me into the sport,” Connors said. “I tried baseball and football but never fell in love with them like I did with soccer. There’s something about soccer that makes it different than the rest.”
Fast forward the tape enough to land the Manalapan-native Connors in Glassboro, where he would see 17 starts in as many games his freshman year. His impact was immediately felt, as Connors tallied three goals, two assists and a game-winner in his debut season that saw Rowan unfortunately miss the mark in the New Jersey Athletic Conference playoffs. 2015 was a different story, as he put eight in the back of the net with one assists and tripled his game-winning count with three. Rowan secured the fourth seed in the NJAC, but were unable to come out with gold to bring home. Last season, the Profs went on a tear, showing a 17-3-1 record. Again, though, Connors improved. His goal-scoring numbers were cut in half, but his assist numbers brought him atop of the team with nine. This season, the senior has two goals along with seven assists in just 13 games.
Connors has been able to fit in perfectly here at Rowan due to the culture that head coach Scott Baker brought into the ‘Boro.
“Rowan soccer has basically taken over my life in a good way,” Connors said. “Coach Scott brings a lot to us mentally, like reading books and giving us motivational quotes and such. When you’re not on board at first, it’s hard to buy into the culture, but once you’re believing and listening to everything he’s saying you can feel something that you’ve never felt before. That’s something I would change if I could, buying into that culture much earlier than I did. If I was doing half the work I’m doing now, it would have been a completely different four years.”
What Baker has established and what the rest of the team has been able to put in has made them more than just that. They are a family.
“On and off the field, we are a close team,” Connors said. “We are probably with each other six or seven nights out of the week. We are always hanging out and getting something to eat or just going out together. It’s because of this culture that’s brought us so close.”
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