Soccer is serious business for Jacob Bushue and his siblings

Soccer is serious business for Jacob Bushue and his siblings

CHAMPAIGN – When the three Bushue siblings were younger, it wasn't uncommon for them to gather their friends in the backyard, split into teams and play some friendly soccer.

Defeating each other was one thing. Defeating the sun was another.

"We wanted to get special lights so we could keep playing at night," said Megan Bushue, 3 years younger than Cole Bushue and 7 years older than Jacob Bushue.

"And our poor neighbors had to get new fences. We would just play all the time at night. It was Cole's friends and my friends and Jacob. He kept getting knocked out of the way, but he kept surviving."

Now, more than a decade later, the youngest Bushue has blossomed into one of the best soccer players Champaign has produced. Bushue, who will play college soccer at tradition-rich Indiana (he'll enroll in January), is The News-Gazette's 13th Area Player of the Year.

His success continues a long string of shining soccer moments in the Bushue family. Cole Bushue, now a coach in the Chicago Fire Juniors program, played at Centennial and Millikin and was part of what many consider the best-ever Little Illini boys' team. Megan, also a coach and administrator in the Fire Juniors, was the N-G's 2003 Area Player of the Year at Centennial before playing at Parkland. Champaign has had its share of soccer families – Eddy, Elise and Ross McAuley come to mind – but the Bushue clan doesn't take a back seat.

The latest prodigy is Jacob, who had 24 goals and 14 assists for a team that came within one win of reaching the Class 2A Final Four. Jacob Bushue has made marks along the way, earning distinction as a member of the U.S. Olympic Development Program and the Chicago Magic club team.

Whether it was at Centennial – he was a starter on the 2007 state-qualifying team – or in club circles, Bushue always has played alongside talented peers. But the 2009 prep season offered a new challenge: Bushue was the standout returning player on a team that lacked experience. A natural midfielder, Bushue had to move up top to provide the Chargers more firepower, but most important, he had to offer much more in the way of guidance.

"This was his chance to step up and be a leader," Cole Bushue said. "I think going into the year, everyone was like, 'They're not very good; it's just Jacob (and no one else).' I think his big thing this year was to prove to everybody that it's not just him."

And though the Chargers finished the season with some of their best play, Bushue endured a rocky campaign. He missed the first two games after being suspended "for stupid stuff I was involved in last April," and soon after endured a bout with mononucleosis. Then the Chargers suffered through a terrible start, winning four of their first 12 matches.

Once healthy, Centennial got on a roll, but Bushue was waylaid again, fighting off a serious bug late in the season. "I played the Normal West game with a 103-degree fever," he said. "I couldn't even focus on the ball."

He wasn't really healthy until the sectional final, and that match – he scored the game-winner on a penalty kick – and the super-sectional loss to Troy Triad – his brilliant header with nine minutes left put Centennial up 2-1 – showed him at his best.

"When we got off to that bad start I thought, 'This is going to be rough,' " Bushue said. "Then we went on that crazy win streak, and I didn't know what was going on. I really feel that the big part was we have players who don't play the club season, so when they came into the high school season they were a little rusty. As the season went on, they got a lot better."

It's hard to separate the family influence, however, on Jacob's career, and this season in particular. Cole coached Jacob for two seasons at Centennial, and though the older brother now lives in Naperville, their bond remains as strong as ever.

"He's one of the main reasons I went to Indiana," Jacob said. "There were other schools that were offering me a little more money, but they just weren't quite as good. He was like, 'You can't turn down Indiana when they're offering you that much (money).' And he taught me how to be more professional on the field. 'Keep your head. Don't always play with so much emotion all the time.' And he's always kept me in check. If I ever got a big head, he always told me, 'There's players better than you. You need to get better.' "

Megan, who lives with Cole in Naperville, bears witness to their closeness. Though 10 years apart in age – a gap that naturally separates some siblings – soccer brings Jacob and Cole together.

"Even now, Cole will call him and say, 'Did you watch that? Yeah, rewind it to this part.' I'm like, 'You guys are weird. Can't you talk about anything else?' " Megan said.

Often, the answer is no. They can't.

Megan relays a story about her brothers inviting her to dinner.

"Are we going to talk about soccer?" Megan asks.

"No – I promise," comes the response.

Megan accepts the invite.

"And then they'll talk about soccer the entire time," she says. "That's kind of how it's always been with those two."

Past Players of the Year

2009 Jacob Bushue Centennial

2008 Richard Kayede Urbana

2007 Jonathan Hinds Centennial

2006 Corey Kallembach Centennial

2005 Nick Leigh Urbana

2004 Michael Marten Judah Christian

2003 Joe D’Amico Centennial

2002 Tony Cook Monticello

2001 Nic Wedig Centennial

2000 Jason Curtiss Centennial

1999 Wally Musumeci Champ. Central

1998 Kirk Strebin Danville]

1997 Tavis Bones Champ. Central