Salesianum School soccer coach Scott Mosier could already see the skills when Jason Blackwell was a nine-year-old in the Hockessin Soccer Club.
By that time, Blackwell had quickly developed a firm understanding of the technical know–how that leads to soccer achievement.
And he knew that time, plus diligence, was the only equation that added up to success.
“Coaches from a young age taught us that we need to keep the ball first,” said Blackwell, the Salesianum senior. “I always worked on technique — trapping the ball, passing, keeping it and making sure the other team doesn’t get it, even like shielding the ball and that stuff.”
Sometimes Mosier, who has a long association with the Hockessin club, now Delaware Rush, as its technical director, would watch Blackwell on the field for Sallies, where he’s been a starting central midfielder since his sophomore year.
And he could picture the 9-year-old who stood out even then for his adeptness at soccer’s critical basics, particularly the ability to maintain possession while others poked at the ball with their feet and lunged at Blackwell with their legs.
“Jason put a lot of time in on his game,” Mosier said. “That’s the first thing people say about Jason. He’s notorious for that. Combined with a skill set and work ethic at that age, not many nine and 10-year-olds are putting hours in on their game. He was able to immediately step in front of the others because his technical ability was so good.
“You could see the foundation, you could see where he would be as a senior [in high school], even the style he plays.”
His diligence never waned, and this fall there was electronic proof. Blackwell played wearing a GPS, which tracked him covering an average of 3½ miles per half for the Sals.
That senior year is over now and, for Blackwell, it couldn’t have been better.
Blackwell was selected by the Delaware High School Soccer Coaches Association as winner of the 2016 Ivan Vidanovich State Player of the Year Award, named after the Glasgow High standout who was the state’s best in 1997 and died in a car accident on the way to the national awards banquet.
Blackwell sparked Salesianum to a 16-1-1 season and its seventh straight state championship, accomplished with a 2-0 victory over Appoquinimink in which Blackwell had a goal and an assist.
“Big, physical guy. Fast,” said Appo coach Adam Bear of the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Blackwell. “He dominated in the midfield for them. I think if you’re the starting mid for Sallies and nationally ranked and No. 1 seed in the state I think you’re totally deserving as player of the year. He’d win 50-50 balls, distribute really well, finish. But at that position you also want leadership and someone who can control the tempo of the game and he did that very well.”
The Sals finished the year ranked No. 6 nationally in the USA Today/National Soccer Coaches Association of America Top 25. Its only loss was to No. 2-ranked Boulder (Colo.) 5-3.
“There’s a calmness about his play in the middle of the field that really helped them,” Wilmington Charter coach Jon Gillespie said of Blackwell, remembering his presence being critical in Sallies’ 2-0 September win over the Force. “ . . . He’s a very good player and very deserving of player of the year. If he wasn’t there, I don’t think they would have been as good as they were this year.’”
While lauded often for his ability to possess and pass the ball, Blackwell had a knack for finishing, too. He led Sallies with 20 goals and 14 assists this season. A three-year starter, he finished his career with 35 goals and 28 assists.
A Wilmington resident, Blackwell had been attending Salesianum soccer games since he was in grade school at St. Edmond’s, looking forward to the opportunity to someday join the team and play for state titles himself. The Vidanovich Award is a proud culmination.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I was looking up to those guys [top players] in middle school. Even when I was a freshman I looked up to the seniors so I think coming in and winning this award is a great thing for me.”
Blackwell, who was also an NHSCAA All-American, started at Concord Soccer Association as a four-year-old in recreational soccer, and quickly established a reputation as a top player. By age 7, Blackwell was playing on a representative, or travel, team at Kirkwood Soccer Club. He switched over to Hockessin (now Delaware Rush) and always played a year up with older kids, on the Hockessin Hammerheads, which won numerous state titles.
“From an early age,” Blackwell said, “I couldn’t really play defense. I was too slow. Up top I was also too slow and on the wings I didn’t have much mobility. So I had to use my technique and smarts.”
He felt like he was made for the midfield.
About a half-dozen players from that Hammerheads team ended up playing at Sallies, including Blackwell, Gavin Ford, Gavin Campbell, Andrew Gantert, James Strine and Bryan Hartmann. Blackwell is now a member of the Hockessin-based Delaware Rush 1999 birth year travel team.
“Jason is a unique player,” Mosier said, “in that he’s gifted in his technical ability of keeping the ball. For a team that possesses the ball a lot, he’s your first choice. The possession style we played, is was kind of built around Jason’s ability to play a certain role.
“With Jason being a dynamic possession-oriented player, and attacking-oriented as well, it really helped us decide what style we’re going to play, which is a great attribute. We possessed the ball more this year than we ever did. We would string together 30 and 40 passes together routinely, sometimes before we went forward. This year we kept the ball by design more than we ever had.”
Mosier added that he was perfectly fine with Blackwell, the centerpiece of his team, even doing his collecting and distributing of the ball in the defensive third of the field, because he was so confident Blackwell could maintain possession.
“I just wanted to control the game and make sure the ball goes where it needs to go and work hard and make sure I’m in the right place at the right time and make sure we got some goals,” said Blackwell, who plans to attend prep school for a year before going to college.
“It didn’t really matter who scored the goal to me. I just wanted to make sure we won that game.”
Contact Kevin Tresolini at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.