Having coached Kevin Cryan on the Bordentown Blitz travel team from ages 12 to 14, Jason Zablow saw pretty quickly he was going to be someone who could help the Bordentown Regional High School team.
“When I was training them when they were young and in middle school and I was in college myself, he was a kid I told (former Scotties coach Mike) Brennan about,” said Zablow, now in his second year as BTHS mentor. “I told him this kid, along with a few others, are gonna make an impact as freshmen and sophomores. Kevin ended up walking in and starting.”
It wasn’t hard to figure out why.
“By the time he was 13, he was probably hitting a better ball than I was,” Zablow said. “He could either strike it clean, or get a ball knuckling or moving. There’s times he’ll just show me different things he can do while I’m standing in goal, I don’t even know how to move to try and save them. You could tell he was gifted as a young player. He just had to grow more into his ability as he’s gotten older and learn to use his body more and some other traits along the way.”
Cryan has done just that and looks to be a central figure in the Scotties’ quest to become the first team in program history to win four straight Burlington County Patriot Division championships.
Playing mostly center-back or center midfield, he had an assist as a freshman, one goal and four assists as a sophomore and a team-high six goals and six assists during an injury plagued junior season.
Early last preseason, Cryan suffered a hip flexor injury that kept him out until the season’s third game. “We knew how good he could be and we kind of took some caution and let him recover for a week or two,” Zablow said. Upon his return, the snake-bitten Cryan suffered a concussion in the second half of his first game back, and was out until late September.
“Missing, like, half the season just for a concussion is pretty frustrating,” he said. “I took the concussion test a bunch of times but just couldn’t get back to a normal state. I was super anxious, I just wanted to get in there.”
Once he returned, Cryan admitted to being a little too anxious.
“I think I was doing too much, calling for the ball all the time and making more mistakes because I was just running all around,” he said. “You just have to calm down, take a couple breaths.”
Cryan showed he was back in early October when he tallied a goal and two assists against New Egypt and tallied two goals and two assists two games later against Maple Shade. It was at that point other teams started catching on to what the Scotties had.
“Teams started putting a center defensive mid to shadow him around,” Zablow noted. “We kind of got lucky the first couple games back, kids would check the stats in the paper and see he only had one goal and one assist so they didn’t think he was that much of a player. After New Egypt and Maple Shade, his game started getting out there a little more. We noticed in our state games, there was constantly a kid or two hovering around.”
It will likely be that way again this year.
“We have to issue challenges to the other guys, ‘Hey people will know who Kevin is, we need somebody else to step up,’” Zablow said. “He’s gonna do his part, but he’s gonna draw their best defender so guys need to beat their second best defender. It helps create some mismatches, he’s not our only good player.”
Cryan has learned to handle defenses better. Despite the confidence Brennan and Zablow showed in him at an early age, Cryan was somewhat squeamish at the start of his high school career.
“The first couple seasons I was young, kind of nervous, was pretty scared to attack more,” he said. “By the end of junior year I was opening up, not too afraid to go forward, keep the ball more.”
And when he started drawing more attention, Cryan said he, “Just had to keep my composure, keep the ball, try not to lose it. Sometimes I like to try to take them on, see what happens, but a simple pass is always nice I like the teamwork aspect more than getting a really hard solo goal.”
He has the ability to do both, as he has scored with a strong foot on set pieces and also delivers dangerous balls into the box as Bordentown’s corner kick man. Cryan is also effective at the opposite end of the field, having the ability to play lockdown defense.
“He’s a kid, if you need a goal, we’re gonna push him up to forward, if we’re sitting on a one-goal lead, ‘Hey Kevin can you be an extra center back for us?’” Zablow said. “He can kind of play anywhere on the field, which allows us, as coaches, to be a little more creative. Generally, center attacking midfielder and defensive center mid is his best spot.”
Cryan plays the game year-round, playing for the Match Fit club program in the summer and spring while enjoying light-hearted futsal in the winter. He has played the game all his life and enjoys the purity of it when played well.
“I like to see the beautiful game, cool passes, nice through balls, just the technical stuff,” Cryan said. “I like taking someone on, making them look silly if I can, and I like to make a nice pass for someone else to score.”
Cryan, who hopes to play in college next year, makes himself more dangerous by combining a high soccer IQ with his ability.
“He’s very technical,” said Zablow, who has high hopes for his team this year. “He’s very crafty. He just knows the exact kind of spaces to be in, and if he’s getting man marked, he knows where to pull defenders to and create mismatches and all that.”
They are qualities that Zablow first saw developing five years ago. He sure is happy to be reunited with Cryan as that early potential is now in full bloom.