Signing one student-athlete who can play on the collegiate level is a great accomplishment at the high school level.
However, signing two student-athletes who are not only talented enough to play at that level, but are best friends that each hold 4.0 grade-point-averages is as big of a win-win as one could possibly find.
The Shawnee State University men’s soccer program landed that very win-win scenario last Tuesday when the star duo of Zach Higbee and Eli Cordle made their intentions official by signing with the Bears and head coach Ron Goodson in a signing ceremony held at Minford High School.
For both players, the accomplishment is a huge deal for each of the pair, especially considering that the roster is taking on a more local flavor over the past several years.
“It’s pretty exciting to sign with Shawnee State,” Higbee said. “My Dad played in college, so it’s cool to make it a two-generation deal.”
“It’s cool because I already know a few of those guys,” Cordle said. “I like that about the local aspect and playing for a local team. All of the guys on it are pretty cool.”
However, Goodson and Minford head coach Dave Gampp know that it is Shawnee State who will benefit greatly from having Cordle and Higbee on the squad, especially with past Minford graduates in Tanner Gampp, Jacob Perry, and Ian Tolle on the roster.
“It’s been good the last three years,” Goodson said. “We’ve signed five kids from Minford who are on the team right now, and Eli and Zach just add on to the talented crop of local products who have come out of the Scioto County area in general. Eli and Zach are great students, good kids, and good players, so it’s a win-win for us. We’re looking forward to having them on our roster.”
“It’s awesome to see good kids like Eli and Zach get a chance like that,” Gampp said. “In fact, alll five of those kids are good in the classroom, too, and now they’re getting a good education to go along with that. That’s what I enjoy out of it.”
Higbee and Cordle, who are among two of seven seniors that will depart Minford’s boys soccer program officially when they graduate in May, won two SOC II Championships with the Falcons in a four year span.
During their four years under Gampp, Higbee collected Honorable Mention All-District accolades as a junior, while Cordle and Higbee each led the Minford brigade by obtaining First-Team All-District marks as seniors. Both players also garnered First-Team All-SOC honors in back-to-back seasons en route to capping off their careers with the aforementioned marks — a feat that caught Goodson’s eye in addition to their outstanding play as he has seen when the pair have played on the field.
“They’re both smart players,” Goodson said. “They’re not really big from a size standpoint, but they have good speed, are obviously very smart, and know the game of soccer quite well. I expect big things out of them.”
However, the pair’s abilities are only topped by their evident chemistry both on and off of the pitch. The pair, who have been best friends since the pair started school together, have built an unbreakable bond through the game of soccer. That bond, which only grew with the inclusion of Logan Boston, Elijah Craft, Aaron Crank, Brian Patrick, and Jacob Smith, collected 28 wins across their final three seasons as Falcons.
“We’ve been best friends since our childhood,” Higbee said of his relationship with Cordle. “It’s pretty cool that we’re signing together at the same time.”
“From a very young age, we, along with Aaron Crank, were always around each other,” Cordle said. “Elijah (Craft) and Logan (Boston) joined in a little later on — around seventh grade — but they really developed quickly with us. We were all very strong together because we spent a lot of time with each other, especially in the game of soccer.”
“All of my seniors were there at every practice and every open gym,” Gampp said. “From their freshman year all the way up through, they never missed anything. They’ve always worked together as a group, and are so coachable. Every time I told them that they needed to work on something, they went home and worked on it. Then, from a classroom standpoint, I never had to worry about them not being eligible because of their grades. That was never an issue. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It was a true blessing to coach all of those kids.”
At Shawnee State, Cordle and Higbee, along with fellow SSU signee Tyler Webb, who starred at Northwest, will join a roster with an increasing amount of local talent.
In all, a total of 15 guys will be on the roster from Scioto, Pike, and Ross Counties, with the five Minford natives — Cordle, Gampp, Higbee, Perry, and Tolle — comprising exactly a third of that total. Webb will join Northwest’s Zachary Smith on the roster, while South Webster’s Alek Blevins and Shane Zimmerman, Clay’s Aaron Keyser, Valley’s Bryce Romanello, Wheelersburg’s Caleb Roof, Chillicothe Southeastern’s Hunter Miles, Chillicothe Unioto’s Andrew Smith, and Waverly’s James White are all coming back for the Bears for the 2018 season.
“It’s a good mix of some of the best local talent that we have, mixed in with international players, some kids from Dayton, and a couple from Northern Ohio,” Goodson said. “This past season was rough. You’re graduating 10 to 12 from the year before, then you lose five to season-ending injuries. A lot of freshmen had to step up and play, and at times, we started as many as eight freshmen during a game. It was good that they got some experience, and I look for these guys to push the returnees for playing time.”
“I love that connection,” Gampp said. “He’s signed five kids from Minford here in the past three years, which is very impressive to me and says so much about how hard the kids have worked to become competitive soccer players, whether that be in high school soccer or club soccer. They’re worked all year round in order to play soccer, and it’s paying off for them.”
If the knowledge for Scioto County guys seems to be there, it’s because Goodson has lived it himself. A member of Minford’s very first soccer unit back in 1983, Goodson went on to score 117 goals for the Red and White, including 47 as a senior in 1986. Goodson then took over the Shawnee State coaching post briefly for a season in 1996 before returning to the slot for good in 2000. The Minford native — whose No. 3 is the only jersey that has ever been retired in the history of the Minford soccer program — will be entering his 20th season of coaching the SSU program this fall.
“I know that he has the goals record (in Scioto County and school history), which is excellent,” Cordle said. “I know that he’ll improve my own style of play and overall talent level. If he put that much time into the game in order to accomplish what he has as a player and since that time as a coach, that lets me know that he enjoys it.”
With their final high school academic campaign coming to a close, both student-athletes are thrilled to know where their next destinations — and chapters — will be in life.
However, it’s clear that the pair have made memories, both inside and outside of the classroom, that will last a lifetime.
“I had a lot of great memories here at Minford,” Higbee said. “I definitely made a lot of great friends and I’m definitely going to miss it. It was fun.”
“I’ve watched Zach and Eli play since they were young, because my son (Tanner) was a grade older than them,” Gampp said. “So I watched them play as they’ve gone up through the ranks, and they were always working together, working to get better at their games, and working to be the best that they could be in anything that they did. They’re just fun to watch, work with, and talk to. We’re going to miss them.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT