If you saw Sean McKenna play as a freshman, you might not recognize him today.
Playing soccer for Father Judge High School has certainly changed him over the years.
First of all, he’s bigger now. That’s because McKenna dedicated himself to getting bigger and stronger to help the Crusaders battle it out in the tough Catholic League.
But he’s also yelling and getting people fired up a lot more now than he did when he was in ninth grade.
That’s all about trying to get the most out of himself and his teammates.
“My role is to be a vocal leader on this team, make sure everyone is in check, get everyone going when we start slow and to make plays on both sides,” said McKenna, a Somerton resident who plays centerback for the Crusaders. “I try to bring that spark that can change games.
“Being vocal is something I grew into over the years. I was a quiet kid my freshman year and as junior year rolled around I earned my spot and fell in love with communicating with the guys around me. I love being a good teammate. You can communicate and be a good teammate.
“I’m definitely comfortable with it now. Last year I was scared in the beginning, directing kids where to be. I was young in the league, but now I feel like I have time under my belt, guys listen to me no matter what.”
Players would be wise to listen to McKenna because he wants what’s best for everyone in Baby Blue. McKenna loves playing soccer, but more than anything, he loves representing Father Judge when he’s playing the sport.
While many top soccer players in the city play for club teams, McKenna is all about the Crusaders. And while he does play for teams outside of Judge, everything he does is to make sure he’s in position to help the Crusaders.
“I’m not a big club soccer guy, I put my work in by myself most of the time,” McKenna said. “High school is everything to me. It means everything. The Judge on the front, representing there, it means a lot to me. Way more than the name and number to me. I want to win, but I want to win at Judge.”
Last year, the Crusaders fell just short of winning a Catholic League championship. Judge advanced to the title game and dropped a razor-thin decision to La Salle, a team that almost everyone agreed was the top team in the league.
Things have changed.
This year, Judge comes into the season as the favorite, and that sits fine with McKenna. It means every team will play its best against the Crusaders, and that can be a challenge, but it will only have the team prepared for big games when the weather turns cooler.
Judge is doing pretty well in the early going. The Crusaders are 3-0 in Catholic League, outscoring their first two foes 10-0 before besting Archbishop Ryan 2-1 in double overtime in a Catholic League classic on Saturday morning.
“Losing in the championship game hurt so bad, I think it changed me, it made me want to win so much more,” McKenna said. “This year, we’re good. It’s fun because you always have a tough game. Sometimes it’s tough, offensively, because people pack it in and play you differently, but it will help us.
“I think losing to La Salle, we have a chip on our shoulder. So just like everyone wants to beat us because people say we’re the top team, we want to beat everyone. It makes the season more exciting.”
Judge might not be a fun team to watch for people who like lots of goals because the Crusaders have a very stingy defense, led by McKenna. But he’s quick to point out it’s not a one-man show, and he gives credit to his mates, who have allowed one goal in three games thus far.
“We’ve played together for a long time, I think that’s why we do so well, defensively,” McKenna said. “Me, Dane (Pizzaro), Albert (Ramocki) and John (Wood) have been playing together for years. We know what to do and we’re all there for each other. We grew up through the program. It’s 100 times easier to play with guys you’re friends with and way more enjoyable. We have a bond. We are close friends. It helps a lot.”
A point guard on the Judge basketball team, McKenna’s future is in soccer. He hopes to find a place for next year while preparing for the next step.
“I want to play college soccer, hopefully a local D2, but I would love to play D1, I would take anything into consideration,” McKenna said. “I want to study physical therapy so I’m still involved in sports. It’s a big part of my life. I tore my meniscus sophomore year and my physical therapist was a big part of getting me back on the field.”
He hopes to get into medicine after hoisting the Catholic League championship plaque. He wants to win, but more than anything, he wants to win for Judge.
“If we win, I’ll probably break down and cry because it means so much to me,” McKenna said. “It would mean the world to me. It’s a 10-year anniversary since we won. It would mean the world to me. To do it for JD, Bobby (Mulvenna) our assistant coach, the alumni, my team and myself. I think about it every day. After we walked off without it in our hands, I wanted it. We have the guys to do it. We love the game of soccer, and if there’s a team to do it, this is the team.
“It means everything to me, and more. I put a lot of hard work into this. Judge soccer is my life. I always think about it. I come home from practice and I work more. That loss last year changed your mindset. I really want to win for Judge.”