To everyone around him, Jeff Greenfield’s first game as a varsity goalkeeper for Oconee County High School was more of the same that they saw in the preseason.
Inside Greenfield, though, everything was upside down.
“I was nervous out of my mind,” Greenfield said. “Butterflies. I was just stoked and couldn’t really grasp the fact that I was going to start varsity as a freshman.”
It was the Warriors’ first scrimmage of the season, against Mill Creek on Feb. 9, but Greenfield’s performance showed none of the anxiety inside of him.
“Even after starting him, I was kind of wondering,” coach Colin Connors said. “But he made some great saves, even that first game, right away. He played the whole first half and shut them out.”
Added Greenfield, “It was pretty much the first game I played as a keeper, it was big to me.”
Greenfield went on to post four shutouts in the team’s first six games of the season, leaving little doubt that the coaching staff made the correct choice. After all, he was chosen over two juniors and a senior at his position.
That didn’t surprise junior defender Phillip Cenkush.
“Honestly, coming into the season, I pretty much new Jeff was going to (start),” Cenkush said. “From working with him before, and seeing him play, I pretty much knew he was already going to be there.”
Perhaps what’s most impressive was the Mill Creek scrimmage was Greenfield’s first live action as a keeper - ever. He played last season at forward, and only switched after it dawned on club coach David Anderson to try a new position.
“I miss it somewhat,” Greenfield said. “But I’m definitely glad I switched. It’s more high stakes.”
Despite talking with Anderson, Connors said he was initially against the move, mainly because he looked forward to Greenfield’s scoring potential.
His coaches say Greenfield’s quickness and 6-foot-2 frame are two main reasons why he excels. Connors said Greenfield’s also aggressive off of the goal line, and takes charge of crosses into the box.
He’s the only freshman starter for the Warriors. And Greenfield’s following a strong goalkeeper legacy at the school.
Last year’s keeper, Andrew Kowalski, set the school record with 14 shutouts in 19 games, and he only allowed 11 goals. Before Kowalski was Bradley Bugg, who started between the posts for four seasons from 2006-2009, highlighted by the program’s run to the state championship in 2008. Bugg went on to play at Georgia Southern, but he followed Steven Fragasey, who eventually played at New York University.
Fragasey came after Tony Taylor, who played linebacker at the University of Georgia, and for the Atlanta Falcons, but who also had college interest in soccer.
Greenfield said Kowalski and Bugg are role models who have set the standards for keepers at Oconee.
“I look up to them pretty big,” Greenfield said. “I know Bradley started all four years, and I want to start all four years. I definitely want to out-do them. Not anything against them, just as good as them.”
Although Connors said Greenfield has the occasional hiccup or two, he doesn’t call them “freshman mistakes,” but rather “inexperienced goalie mistakes.” But Connors said Greenfield quickly accepts responsibility and looks for ways to improve.
When Greenfield won the job, Connors said it was a unanimous choice among the coaching staff.
“I wasn’t real excited that a freshman with not much experience had won it,” Connors said. “But that’s who we determined was the best, and who we went with.”
If he keeps playing like this, Connors could be going with Greenfield in goal for a long time.