December 24, 2013 10:29:45 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Very few players can impact a game at a high level on both ends of the field.
Whether it's denying penalty kicks on one end or tormenting goalkeepers on the other, Michael Godley is one of the state's most versatile soccer players.
The Starkville High School junior showcased the offensive side of his game last weekend at the Brandon High by scoring two goals each in victories against Newton County, West Lauderdale, and St. Andrews. For his accomplishments, Godley is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"Up top he can do it all," Starkville High boys soccer coach Brian Bennett said. "He has great touch, he can be there for check-backs to the ball, and he has a lot of speed, which is how he is getting a lot of his chances by pushing behind the back line. He also is pretty good with both feet."
Godley's emergence as a scorer hasn't been a surprise. The losses of players like Dylan Howard, Taylor Wise, Justin Gordon, and Juan Salazar left Starkville, which lost to Oxford last season in the Class 5A North State title match, with a lack of depth in the scoring column. With players like Ben Mackin and Christian Kingery returning to help anchor the midfield and the entire back line coming back to give the Yellow Jackets added experience on defense, Bennett talked to Godley prior to the season about moving him from goalkeeper, where he excelled last season, to forward. Godley figured Starkville would need someone to help fill the void the team faced after losing so many key players. He said his experience as a field player with club teams, including the state champion Under-17 Region III team in U.S. Youth Soccer's Central Premier League, gave him the confidence to know he could make the transition at the high school level.
After scoring 16 goals in 10 games, Godley feels he has filled the role well thanks to the contributions of his teammates.
"We have great central midfielders and good ballplayers, so I think pretty much you can put anyone at striker at Starkville High and be successful there," Godley said. "(Ben and Christian, the team's primary central mids) make it easy on me. I also have played with guys like McColley Brasher, David Houston, Charlie Henderson, and Caleb Gwaltney. Of all of those guys, I have been at striker the most, so it is not surprising that I am scoring more goals because I have more time at the position than they do."
Godley scored four goals in a game against Clarkdale and three (and an assist) in a victory against Amory. The lone blemish on Starkville's record was a 3-0 loss to region rival Madison Central. Starkville also played Tupelo to a 1-1 tie.
Against Madison Central, Godley played goalkeeper. While Bennett second-guessed his decision to put Godley in goal and not to have him play the field, Godley said he doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about what could have happened if he played one position or the other. He said gaging the opponent and identifying where he best fits with his teammates in that game plan is the most important thing for the Yellow Jackets to do as they move forward in the state's biggest classification.
Godley has honed his goalkeeping skills against some of the nation's top players. In the past year, he has traveled with Mackin to Alabama as part of an Olympic Development program, where they have trained with others in their age group who have reached national team levels. Even though he has played most of his minutes as a forward this season, Godley admits he probably is a stronger goalkeeper than a striker. With a year left to grow at both positions, Godley isn't going to allow peoples' perceptions of him limit his opportunities. Instead, he is going to use their thoughts that he can't make it as a Division I goalkeeper because he isn't that tall (he is 5-foot-8 to 5-9) and that he likely could play at the Division II or III level as a forward because he doesn't have blazing speed or impeccable foot skills.
"The biggest thing I like to do is to prove people wrong," Godley said. "If they tell me I can't score 50 goals in a high school season, I am going to work my butt off to prove If they tell me I can't be a Division I striker because I don't make good enough runs or I am not in shape enough or I don't finish well enough, I am going to be at the field until I get it to a Division I quality."
Bennett has watched Godley mature into a leader of this season's team. He saw glimpses of his potential as an offensive player early last season when Godley played in the field. He also watched as Godley stopped a penalty kick against Oxford last season, only to have that save erased because officials said Godley moved off his line before the kick.
Whether it is at forward or at goalkeeper, Bennett believes Godley has positioned himself to become one of the next players to come through Starkville High to move on to play soccer in college.
"He loves to score and he loves the spotlight," Bennett said. "He can get up there and put the ball in the net and when he does he gets a big smile on his face. Even though he is not the tallest goalkeeper, he is one of the better ones I have seen."
Godley isn't sure which position will give him the best chance to play at the next level. He acknowledges he enjoys playing up top and mixing and matching his skills with his teammates. He also admits it will be a challenge for him to compete with other forwards if he continues to divide his time between playing goalkeeper and striker because he needs to have time on the ball and to learn the game. Godley feels his experience as a goalkeeper has helped him have such an impact on the Starkville High team this season. Whether it is on offense or defense, Godley will continue to work on his skills so he remain an impact player at both ends of the field.
"I have had a few big goals, but in all of the other games we would have won even if I wasn't up top," Godley said. "I am pleased I have 16 goals. I just need to get the goals that count in district games and in playoff games."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.