STARKVILLE — Don’t let the speed fool you, Justin Gordon is a complete soccer player.
The Starkville High School sophomore forward/midfielder understands, though, that when you have blazing speed it often leaves an impression with opponents that you are a one-dimensional player.
Gordon proved that wasn’t the case Saturday as he mixed speed and skill to score the only goal in Starkville’s 1-0 victory against Pascagoula in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state title match at Clinton High.
The goal was Gordon’s 11th of the season and helped Starkville (14-3) claim its first boys soccer championship.
For his accomplishment, Gordon is The Dispatch’s Prep Player of the Week.
“I feel great about it, but without my teammates we wouldn’t have won that game,” Gordon said.
Gordon, 15, makes the most of his 5-foot-7, 132-pound frame. He took a chip pass from Price Day and beat a defender and the goalkeeper without looking up at the goal. He said it was all instinct and that he wanted to keep his focus on the ball so he struck it solidly to capitalize on one of the few great scoring chances on the turf field.
Gordon’s performance was even more impressive considering he was playing with an injury. Starkville High boys soccer coach Brian Bennett said Gordon hurt his knee in the team’s first playoff game against Center Hill. He said Gordon’s right knee swelled and he believes he tore meniscus and something else in the knee. Gordon shook off the injury to score a goal in the next game, a victory against Oxford. He also received a kick to the knee that he told Bennett made his knee, which felt like it was going to pop, feel better.
Bennett said Gordon didn’t feel any pain in the knee against Hernando or Pascagoula and that he had a MRI on the knee the Friday before the Oxford game but didn’t get the results back until after the game. He said Gordon is scheduled to have surgery on the knee during spring break, but he also said Gordon might get a second opinion since he isn’t feeling any pain.
“For hurting his knee and being able to play like he did I thought was pretty amazing,” Bennett said.
Gordon started playing soccer when he was 4. He credits age-group Richard Damms, who mentored him on Under-6 through U-10 teams, for helping him develop the ballhandling skills that serve him so well today. He started as a defender and then moved to the midfield on Select soccer teams in Starkville.
Gordon didn’t play club soccer this past season, but he said he is going to try out for one of the teams with the Birmingham United Soccer Association in Birmingham, Ala., in hopes of becoming an even better player.
Gordon, who had 14 goals last season, has started on the varsity team since he was in eighth grade. Bennett said Gordon can be a ballhandler, which is why he sometimes plays a flank midfield position. Bennett said Gordon’s ability to play that position gives him a chance to combine his speed and his technical skills to wreak havoc against defenses.
Gordon said his development as a player and his performance against Pascagoula has helped him change the perception of others about his game. He said his teammates knew he had more to his game than quickness, but it probably took a goal like that to prove it to others.
“I feel that I have improved,” Gordon said. “I think everybody really noticed my speed when I played Select soccer, but everyone now notices I have footwork and skills.
“I still think I have a lot of work to do to get better as a player. I am just going to push myself to do that.”
Bennett agrees Gordon’s speed likely catches the eyes of coaches and immediately makes them take notice. He feels Gordon, whose uncle is former Mississippi State University football player Johnie Cooks, has the skills, the work rate, and the desire to take his game to the next level.
“I highly encourage him to find a (club) team and any team picking him up will have a star player on their hands,” Bennett said. “He is the kind of player who wants the ball.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.