South boys’ soccer captain Jude Ferri returns to the team this season after suffering a serious knee injury last year.

A bigger celebration than usual followed Jude Ferri’s first preseason goal.

It wasn’t that the High School South senior was better known for his playmaking than his finishing, or even that his goal came on a gorgeous head ball. It was that he was playing again at a high level for the Pirates boys’ soccer team less than a year after tearing his lateral cruciate ligament.

“It’s been so awesome,” Ferri said. “I can still remember the day when I had to go to my team and break the news that I wouldn’t be playing with them. Now I’m playing with all those guys again. We only lost a few guys from last year. And my coach has been a factor too. He’s one of my biggest supporters too.’

Coach Bryan Fisher, who wasn’t sure he’d see Ferri on the field this year, said his return has given the team a huge lift, and the preseason goal was an early indication that he’s healthy again.

“I was afraid this young man wouldn’t play again,” Fisher said. “He rehabbed every single day after surgery last October. He really wanted to be a part of this season. He’s a great kid, he’s a tremendous athlete and his work ethic has helped our team kind of gel so far already this year. It was an emotional moment to watch him celebrate even a preseason goal. It stamped that he was back. We’re glad to have him. We’re expecting big things from him this year. We’re lucky to have him back at 100 percent.”

Ferri said he never doubted that he would return this year, and his faith and work ethic helped him fulfill that goal. He’s captaining the WW-P South team that has started the year 3-1.

“I talked to my trainer about playing for the team,” Ferri said. “Once it set in, I never had a chance to look back. Once I got my first foot forward, I took it in stride.”

Ferri was hurt when an opposing player met him in the air for a 50-50 ball. They made contact in the air, and Ferri landed awkwardly. He tried to walk off the field but his knee buckled as he neared the bench. The next day he couldn’t walk.

“When he got injured last year, the entire team went to his house to see if he was okay,” Fisher said. “That’s when you know you’ve got a special kid—when people are taking time out of their day to go check on someone. He’s a team guy. He bleeds it, and we’re very fortunate to have a guy like that being a captain on our team.”

Ferri had surgery a few weeks later and his surgeon was cautiously optimistic about his chance to return this year.

He poured himself into his physical therapy and was playing again by the spring for his club team.

“I would say it went pretty well,” Ferri said. “I woke up every day looking forward to doing something on my knee.”

At first he took it slow—he didn’t really have a choice.

“I didn’t have my speed, I didn’t have my strength,” Ferri said. “What I was really lacking was my mind set. I didn’t go into a tackle for a while.”

Now feeling fully healthy, his focus is on making the most of his final scholastic season before he aims to continue playing in college.

He labels himself more defensive minded, but in the first four games he has three assists out of his center midfielder position. He played an outside midfield position in his first year of varsity as a sophomore, then moved to center back last year when he was hurt.

Fisher discussed his concerns about moving him to one of the most physically demanding positions, but Ferri was thrilled to move back to a position that he’s played for travel as well.

“That’s kind of been the biggest story of my high school career—I’ve been moved around,” Ferri said. “I started out wide. They tried me in the middle, and then they moved me to center back after a couple games last year. Everyone was asking, where do you think Coach will put you?”

The team currently has a 10-7 record, and Ferri is optimistic about their performance.

“I think we play some real quality soccer this year,” Fisher said. “I don’t know if I’ve had a team in my 10 years that can play the game the way they do. They’re very smart with the ball. They’re a great possession team. Defensively we’re very strong. It’s just finding the guys that can score goals for us to win games.”

Ferri is one of the more experienced varsity players. He’s in his third year of varsity and has grown into a larger role each year.

“It’s so different,” he said. “Coming into that first year of playing varsity, you have to prove to yourself and your coach that you’re able to be part of the program. You play any role possible. I was playing along the sidelines and alongside the guys in the middle. My focus this year is being able to play with everyone, getting everyone touches and not letting anyone get cold feet. I want to move the ball around.”

It’s part of the adjustments he’s had to make this year, not only in terms of playing but in terms of being a leader for the team. “It’s a big change going from center back last year where I didn’t have experience,” Ferri said. “I noticed how much of the field you can see. You step in center midfield and you see it’s a whole different ballgame. I’ve had to transition to that. Taking on a captain role has been a dream since my freshman year.”

Ferri is hopeful that he can help to lead the Pirates to another winning season that has characterized recent years, and carry it just a little farther.

“The program and coaching staff has set the mindset—at least for us older guys—it’s been a win first, team first,” Ferri said. “I don’t think we’ve won a state in about a decade. That’s clearly his goal for us and it’s been a goal for a long time and hopefully it’s fulfilled this year.”

Returning Ferri to the lineup certainly helps. The Pirates believe that they have the pieces together and healthy to make another dangerous push.

“The last three years we’ve been fortunate to go on unbeaten runs,” Fisher said. “Two years ago, we went nine or 10 games where we were unbeaten. Last year we had a six- or seven-game stretch where we were unbeaten in October. You need to be able to do it consistently in high school, especially in our conference.”