Laye ready to compete in North-South game
by Erich Hilkert
SYLACAUGA—Jackson Laye smoothes out his blonde hair on the grass of Legion Stadium on a blustery Thursday in Sylacauga as he recounts a fateful decision he made at the tender age of eight.

“I was playing all these sports and my mom was like ‘Jackson, you’ve got to stick with one.’ So I chose soccer, and I’ve been playing soccer all year since then. I’ve been on varsity since my freshman year. It’s been bang, bang, bang: soccer.”

The 5-8 midfielder was selected to play for the North soccer team in the AHSAA All-Star week July 15-20.

“I’m very, very excited and very honored that I was even nominated and that I got accepted for this,” Laye said. “I really couldn’t have done it without my teammates. I had 15 assists this season and five goals, and I couldn’t have done any of that without my teammates. I think they were a huge part in me making this team and I just want to thank them for that.”

Sylacauga soccer head coach Matt Zedaker said it is a well-deserved honor for Laye.

“Jackson is a hard worker,” Zedaker said. “He is definitely a student of the game. He has played soccer all his life, loves it, lives it, and has really developed into an exceptional player for us. To be selected to the All-Star team by other coaches that are on a committee from around the state is a tremendous honor for us, especially in this sport. It’s easily dominated by kids from Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and the Montgomery area. It’s an honor for him to represent our region and we’re proud of him. He’s the third player that I’ve coached soccer-wise that’s been elected to this All-Star game, so that’s a big honor for us. I can’t be any prouder for him.”

Zedaker said this will be a great opportunity to possibly receive some attention from the many college soccer coaches who will be in attendance.

”I know he’s got aspirations to play soccer in college,” Zedaker said. “I think this is an exceptional opportunity for him to get some other looks from some other coaches. Every soccer coach in the state is supposed to be at the All-Star weekend that day at clinics and taking their rules tests. So, hopefully they’ll go to the game and see him. I know there will be a lot of college coaches there.”

In his freshman year, Laye played on a varsity team that made it to the second round of the state playoffs. However, Laye didn’t rest on such an accomplishment. He sought to take his game to a higher level by playing with top-level competition outside of the soccer season.

“Last year, I started playing for a Briarwood club and that really helped me with my level of play and the speed,” Laye said. “Playing with all the Birmingham kids, they’ve grown up playing soccer all-year-round. With a little small-town kid like me, it was a real wake-up call to what real soccer actually is. Once I got used to that, I got a letter from the soccer association of Alabama inviting me to try out for ODP (Olympic Development Program), which is basically the state team for Alabama. I went and tried out for that, and I kept making the cuts but there’s a lot of money to do that. So, I decided I should just focus on Briarwood and stay in-state.”

While it was difficult playing in a region with John Carroll, Briarwood, and Homewood, Laye said playing regularly against such high-quality teams was something he embraced.

“That was really difficult, but with me playing those guys during the club season and being on the same team and competing against them, I actually knew what they were able to do,” he said. “So, I just forewarned my teammates—watch out for this guy, watch out for this guy. I think it made all of us better players, not just me. Playing that level of soccer is just—I love it—it’s amazing.”

Sylacauga managed to finish the season with a 13-12 record, beat county rivals Talladega and Childersburg twice and played a close game against the eventual state champs with a 1-0 loss to Briarwood. While the team got off to a slow start, they finished the season by winning eight of their last 10 games.

Laye said he doesn’t feel any pressure going into All-Star week, stating he intends to bring his usual style of play.

“My expectations are for me to go out there and play how I’ve been taught to play throughout the years and how I know how to play—fast soccer, pass then run,” Laye said. “I’m going to be playing with the big dogs—they know how to play. I’ve played with them before, so I know what to expect. I’m just really excited for the atmosphere. I’ve never played in a stadium that big before. I’m just really excited to be on a team with all those guys. Some guys might be intimidated not knowing what to expect. I’ve got all the confidence in the world that I’m going to go there and do what I need to do and have fun.”

Zedaker added that in addition to being a major asset on the field, Laye is a high-character person off the field as well.

“He’s just a really good kid,” Zedaker said. “He comes from a great family that has done an outstanding job of raising him. I can’t think of anybody better to have this honor and he worked for it. I know he would like to say his teammates had a bit in this as well, in him getting looked at and selected because it is a team sport. All of his teammates are really proud of him. I’m excited for him. I hope this springboards him into a great senior season for us and can’t be any happier for a better kid.”
© 2013