Even when he played closer to his own goal, Dylan Kotch had a hankering to be up by the opposition’s net.

Steinert High School senior Dylan Kotch had 12 goals and four assists through the Spartans’ 7-1-1 regular season. He received All-State honors last year. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

“When I was younger and played outside back I always tried to get forward and get involved in the offense,” the Steinert senior said. “As a midfielder, I always wanted to score goals. I was always hungry for the net no matter where I was playing. Now that I’m a forward I can actually score a lot more.”

That’s an understatement.

After a sophomore season in which he tallied a modest three goals and one assist, Kotch exploded last year after being moved from midfield to forward. He collected 20 goals and eight assists, earning first-team All-Colonial Valley Conference honors and receiving All-State recognition.

This season, with the entire CVC looking to defend him, Kotch had 12 goals and four assists through the Spartans 7-1-1 regular season.

“What’s amazing about this year is he’s on everybody’s radar,” Steinert coach Anthony Tessein said. “Last year he had a great year, and the first half of the year he was flying under everybody’s radar. He was out of nowhere. Then people started to pick up on him.

“This year, we’ll go into every game and they’ll know about Dylan. After the year he had, that reputation precedes you. Even with all the knowledge other teams have about him and the pressure that goes with living up to his honors, he’s producing. I think he’s having a better season than last year in a lot of ways.”

Another factor that makes this season so impressive is that Kotch has thrived without his 2019 running mate, midfielder Justin Brunow. As a senior, Brunow had 10 goals and six assists and the chemistry between himself and Kotch was undeniable. Even when teams started to recognize Kotch as a threat, they also had to worry about Brunow.

“Justin would take a lot of pressure off of Dylan,” Tessein said. “Losing Justin was tough. He was a great player but I think the guys that have now stepped in have just kind of simplified stuff.

“Last year there were a lot of mouths to feed with where you’re gonna distribute the ball. For (senior midfielders) Romario Azer or Mike Garofalo, there’d be some pressure to make sure Justin and Dylan both got the ball. Some of that pressure has been kind of lifted. It’s been a little more simplified. We’re gonna find Dylan.”

The coach was quick to point out that senior forward Dante Falvo, who is up front with Kotch and junior Matt Vernon, produced seven goals through nine games after scoring three last year.

“When teams shut down Dylan, Dante is able to step in,” Tessein said. “And Matt has broken through with a couple of goals, which is nice.”

Kotch was also quick to praise Falvo, saying “he has definitely picked it up and helped us out.”

Much of the credit still belongs to Kotch, who has slowly but surely learned the nuances of playing forward as opposed to midfield. That was his main position playing club soccer for the Hibernians, GAK, Millstone and currently Match Fit.

“We kind of projected last year that he was gonna be one of our center-mids and we thought Brunow was gonna be one of our forwards,” Tessein said. “It kind of became clear that we had it backwards. Even still, it took Dylan a little while to understand that you gotta hang up a little high, you can’t drop back so far. Even when your gut is telling you that you’ve gotta drop back, you can stay up.”

Kotch noted that he played forward a bit as a youngster, but it still took a while to understand the position in high school.

“I basically played everywhere as a kid but it was definitely a challenge because I had to learn the position,” he said. “Now I adapted to it and I know how to play a little better than last year. I just had to learn to make the right runs and work together with my midfielders.”

That cohesiveness comes from proper positioning.

“You always have to be in the right spot,” Kotch said. “It depends on what formation we’re playing. This year I have to hold up so it gives our midfield room. If you’re positioning and your runs are good and you’re fast then you should be fine.”

Tessein feels a change in the formation has helped Kotch maintain his production. Steinert went from a 3-5-2 with two forwards to a 4-3-3 this year, which has put Kotch in more positions to go 1 v 1 with an opponent.

“That’s allowed him the freedom to create his own shot and be a creative force,” Tessein said. “He’s got a heck of a shot. Some of what we’re doing is catered toward what Dylan is good at and what’s good for our team.”

Kotch feels the new alignment has helped take pressure off him.

“We all had to adapt to a new formation,” he said. “At first I was playing center-forward and then I would be man marked and went out wide. So basically I’ve been moving around during the game.

“I think the formation is better for our team. Last year we had a lot of guys who wanted to play wingback, this year we had a whole new defense so we thought it would be safe to go four in the back this year and it’s working.”

What impresses Tessein greatly about his star is that he doesn’t act like one. He possesses that hunger necessary to score up front and knows it’s his job to take shots and score goals, but he’s happy to pass off to a teammate when need be.

“He’s able to have that striker’s mentality that he’s gonna score, and he wants the ball and he wants to be the guy, but at the same time he’s very humble,” Tessein said. “At the end of the day he just wants to win and does whatever we have to. If we thought our best chance to win was putting him in goal, he’d go into goal even if he never played it.”

That helping-hand attitude is prevalent off the field as well. During his sophomore and junior years, Kotch was part of an organization called Campfire. The group would perform volunteer hours around the county with soup kitchens and senior homes. He has been forced to hold back this year due to COVID-19, but has a good feeling about his contributions.

“I always love giving back to the community,” he said. “It’s always a good feeling helping out people who are less fortunate.”

Speaking of misfortune, Kotch has the bad timing to be a senior during the pandemic, meaning his college future is murky as of now. With programs shutting down this fall, this year’s new players will still be freshmen in eligibility next year, while seniors are allowed to return.

That makes for slim pickings when it comes to recruiting, but his classroom work will help him immensely as Koch has all A’s except for three B’s.

“He’s in limbo like a lot of seniors,” Tessein said. “He’s talking to some D-I’s and a few D-III’s. Scholarship money has run dry and even spots on rosters have been thin. But he’s gonna play, he’s motivated to play and there’s colleges that are gonna want him.”

And when they get him, he is going to be hungry to score. As always.