Boys' Soccer POY: Urbana's Saul Downie

Boys' Soccer POY: Urbana's Saul Downie

URBANA — Saul Downie is all about involvement and commitment.

Whether in soccer or as a resident in his hometown community, Downie is an active participant.

Urbana’s soccer coach, Randy Blackman, learned long ago that he could trust Downie with whatever role was needed.

“What makes him exceptional is he has the ability to control by doing whatever the team is lacking,” Blackman said. “If that is defense, offense, quick play, he is able to provide it. Saul is one of the most complete players I’ve coached.”

Downie helped Urbana win a fourth consecutive Big 12 Conference championship and advance to the Sweet 16 in the Class 2A postseason tournament. He headlines The News-Gazette’s All-Area team as the Player of the Year.

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Soccer is an important piece of Downie’s life. The sport became a part of his routine even earlier than expected.

“You’re supposed to be 5 (to play in the Urbana Park District), but I started early,” Downie said. “I was turning 4.”

As he grew older, as he played locally for the Little Illini Soccer Club and later with a suburban Chicago club program (Chicago Magic PSG), playing soccer is not what defines Downie.

It is a part of his life, but not with an all-encompassing chokehold.

He is a diversified student-athlete.

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Downie is liable to surface at areas far beyond the family’s television set.

“I can’t stay caught up on all the latest TV shows,” Downie admitted.

His maturity was revealed in conjunction with his Bar Mitzvah, prior to his eighth-grade year. He undertook a project that was a natural extension of his life.

“Being a teen, and eating a lot, I knew what it was like to be hungry,” he said. “I was familiar with the Eastern Illinois Food Bank and realized I could make a large immediate impact. I asked for donations that helped fund hunger.”

In 2009, he raised $7,400 combined for the Eastern Illinois Food Bank Back Pack Buddies Program and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

“My parents raised me to help people who are less fortunate,” Downie said. “Looking back, I’m amazed at the amount and scope I was able to fundraise.

“People needed help, and I was able to help them.”

Downie has volunteered at the Food Bank and, in 2012, helped prepare and serve meals at The Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, in Champaign.

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As he awaits word on whether he has been accepted to his college of choice — Yale — Downie enters the final semester of high school ranked second academically in a class of 281 students. Thanks to weighted classes, he has a 5.744 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale.

He started getting straight A’s as a sixth-grader and has had just one grade as low as A-minus since entering Urbana High (behind-the-wheel as a sophomore).

Downie’s attitude on classroom work has shifted as he has gone through school.

“I spend a lot of time studying,” he said, “but the motivation behind it is not to get the best grades possible, but to learn as much as possible.

“My courses are intellectually stimulating. I feel like I’m learning important things. There was a time I was preoccupied with getting the best grades possible, but as I’ve matured I’ve realized what’s more important is the entire process.”

This semester, Downie’s course load includes Advanced Placement (AP) classes in calculus, physics, macroeconomics, literature and comprehension, Spanish and studio art along with one non-AP class: physical education.

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Once a week — on Wednesdays — Downie goes from one school to another. After leaving Urbana High in the afternoon, he heads a few blocks to Leal School “where I help third- and fourth-graders read and write,” he said.

The teacher at his grade school alma mater, Craig Huff, is a former soccer coach at the high school.

This is Downie’s fourth year volunteering at Leal, and his commitment covers 20 weeks.

One of Downie’s remembrances from grade school, however, is an out-of-class activity.

“I remember not eating my lunch and playing soccer,” he said.

He enjoys giving back to the young students and plans to continue that endeavor.

“Wherever I end up (for college), I will try to be involved in the community,” Downie said.

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Downie was born at Urbana’s Carle Foundation Hospital in 1995, but he holds a dual citizenship with the U.S. and Canada. It’s not likely to be significant although his father, Stephen, pointed out one possible advantage.

“If he fails to get on the U.S. Men’s National (soccer) Team, he could try out for Canada,” he quipped.

Though Saul Downie is still sympathetic to the plight of those battling hunger, he has expanded his passions.

“I’ve picked different ways to help people, different causes and interests,” he said. “One thing I’m involved with are civil liberties and civil rights.”

He knows where to trace this interest. It began at Urbana Middle School.

“Mr. (Tony) Novak is a family friend from the synagogue, and he led an enrichment course at the middle school,” Downie recalled. “We read police reports and discussed potential defenses. I enjoyed it.”

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The passion didn’t pass and, Downie said two years later, “on a whim, I called him up” the summer before his sophomore year.

He asked to be an intern and not just one who made coffee or cleared the fax machine.

“I was reading cases, researching precedents and discussing the intricacies of the law,” Downie said. “He’d never had an intern like that before.”

Whether the cases involved drugs, a DUI or a homicide, Downie immersed himself into the venture and made sure to join in on lunch gatherings.

“Some of my favorite lunches were with local lawyers and judges, and at the whole table everyone was talking about law things,” Downie said. “It’s great to hear people who are passionate about what they are doing. I started reading ‘Letters to the Editor’ (in the newspaper) to be able to hold a conversation.”

As Downie ponders his future, he faces a variety of possible paths.

“I could see being a lot of things,” he said, “but I’d like to go to law school.”

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Seniors at Urbana had a day earlier in the semester in which they could go on college visits or devote time to filling out college applications.

Downie did neither.

“I convinced a group to go with me to the Urbana Adult Education Center and we cleaned up the offices,” he said. “I’m trying to help out in the community.”

Decisions are a part of the growing process. Downie faced one as a high school sophomore.

“I played percussion all through middle school and my freshman year,” he said, “but I was forced to choose art or music.”

Downie picked art.

Earlier this year, he won “Best in Show” at Urbana’s annual Art Show.

“It was an oil-and-pastel piece,” he said. “A Coke can and a lime.”

Music has taken a backseat, though his drum set remains in the basement.

“I will definitely keep up the music sometime later,” he said.

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Things have worked out well at home, too.

In June 2011, Downie’s mother, Deborah Katz-Downie, was diagnosed with leukemia. She spent most of the next eight months hospitalized in St. Louis.

Though she was worried about her condition, that wasn’t all that was on Deborah’s mind.

“(Saul) was 15, and he had to help himself,” she said.

Stephen Downie, a professor in the department of plant biology at the UI, divided his time between Urbana and St. Louis, making sure there was family available when he was away.

“Grandma was here,” he said.

Katz-Downie underwent a stem-cell transplant and soon will be in remission for two years. Dad is proudest of how his son carried on in her absence.

“Even when his mother was gone, he was able to keep pushing himself and be successful,” he said.

◆ ◆ ◆

Saul Downie is president of his senior class and also Urbana’s chapter of the National Honor Society.

“I try my hardest in all of my pursuits,” Downie said. “I multi-task and I’m disciplined how I spend my free time.”

His enjoyment for soccer reached a zenith after his eighth-grade year when he and his Little Illini Soccer Club teammates went on a two-week tour of Europe, with matches in Sweden and Denmark.

“Even if you can’t communicate, you can kick around a soccer ball in front of a school,” Downie said. “That made me determined to be the best player I could be.”

Four years later, Downie can see that his mission was accomplished.

The Area Player of the Year recognition, however, “won’t be the highlight of my high school career,” he said, “but is the cherry on the top. A lot of people helped me get here, the coaches along the way. It’s great that it worked out so well.”

Join the crowd
A look at the past area boys’ soccer Players of the Year:
2013    Saul Downie    Urbana
2012    Miguel Fierro    Urbana
2011    J.J. Malone    Blue Ridge
2010    Adam Blackman    Urbana
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    Champaign Central

A look at the past area boys’ soccer Coaches of the Year:
2013    John Klaber    Hoopeston Area
2012    Randy Blackman    Urbana
2011    Phil Anders    Urbana Uni High

All-Area First Team
David Anderson    Urbana    Jr.    Midfielder
Saul Downie    Urbana    Sr.    Midfielder
Dennis Freeman    St. Thomas More    Jr.    Forward
Dylan Grammer    Blue Ridge    Jr.    Forward
Cameron Griffin    Danville    Jr.    Goalkeeper
Luke Hanselman    Monticello    Jr.    Midfielder
Nathaniel Hinds    Centennial    Jr.    Midfielder
Randall Hornbaker    Urbana Uni High    Sr.    Forward
Mason Jett    Hoopeston Area    Sr.    Defender
Feli Keti    Champaign Central    Sr.    Midfielder
Emmanuel Komba    Champaign Central    Jr.    Forward
Gesi Muharremi    Urbana    Sr.    Forward
Lewis Nisbet    Judah Christian    Sr.    Forward

All-Area Second Team
Austin Baker    St. Joseph-Ogden    Sr.    Forward
Brennan Crose    Hoopeston Area    Sr.    Forward
Coale Dolbert    Blue Ridge    Jr.    Defender
Darian Gingold    Urbana    Sr.    Defender
Tristan Gurtler    Urbana Uni High    Sr.    Goalkeeper
Jacob Huff    Danville    Jr.    Defender
Kyler Jones    St. Thomas More    Sr.    Forward
Michael Linsner    Judah Christian    Sr.    Defender
Lucas Newman-Johnson    Urbana Uni High    Sr.    Defender
Jordan Romo    Salt Fork/Westville    Sr.    Forward
Daniel Shin    St. Thomas More    Sr.    Forward
Gracson Torres    Danville    Sr.    Forward
Diamond Williams    Centennial    Jr.    Forward

All-Area Soccer Special Mention
ARTHUR-LOVINGTON — David Emerick, Sr., Defender; Omar Martinez, Jr., Midfielder.

BISMARCK-HENNING — Skylar Nuetzmann, Jr., Midfielder; Blake Reifsteck, Fr., Striker; Drake Swinford, So., Defender.

BLUE RIDGE — Aaron Kopp, Sr., Midfielder; Blayne Zeigler, Jr., Goalkeeper.

CENTENNIAL — Oscar Almaraz, Sr., Goalkeeper; Kevin Hernandez, Jr., Defender; Sammy Lack, Sr., Midfielder; Aidan Reilly, Jr., Midfielder; Alfonso Quintas, Sr., Striker.

CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL — Ryan Chalifoux, Fr., Goalkeeper; Juan Garcia, So., Midfielder; Tim Ham, Sr., Defender; Riley Kemper, Jr., Defender; Alex Zarco, Jr., Midfielder.

DANVILLE — Jordan Allen, So., Midfielder; Mikee Maniquis, Jr. Forward; Chase Norton, Jr., Midfielder; Luis Rubio, Jr., Forward.

FISHER/GCMS — Hunter Lowry, Sr. Forward; David Ricks, Sr., Midfielder; Andrew Young, Sr., Defender.

GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM — Tristen Jurumbo, So., Midfielder; Reed Smith, Sr., Forward.

HOOPESTON AREA — Chase Bouse, Jr., Forward; David Cornelius, Sr., Defender; Nathan Michael, So., Midfielder; Elijah Yates, Sr., Midfielder.

IROQUOIS WEST — Ivan Ramirez, Fr., Forward; Victor Pizano, Sr., Midfielder.

JUDAH CHRISTIAN — Max Berry, Fr., Forward; Jake Neethling, Jr., Defender.

MAHOMET-SEYMOUR — A.J. Ellis, Jr., Goalkeeper.

MONTICELLO — Nathan Mumm, Jr., Midfielder.

OAKWOOD — Cole Burris, Sr., Forward; Landon Turner, Jr., Goalkeeper; Evan Wangler, So., Forward.

SALT FORK/WESTVILLE — Noah Darr, Jr., Midfielder; Christian Jackson, Jr., Defender; Aaron Marx, Jr., Goalkeeper.

SCHLARMAN — Chris Kuchefski, Sr., Goalkeeper; Kurt Son, Sr., Midfielder.

ST. JOSEPH-OGDEN — Colton Bowser, Sr., Forward; Matt Ekstrom, Sr., Goalkeeper; Bjoern Ole Voll, Sr. Midfielder.

ST. THOMAS MORE — Michael Behrensmeyer, So., Midfielder; Colin Kelley, Sr., Defender; Josh Koerner, Sr., Defender.

UNITY — Trevor Giannetti, Jr., Midfielder; Mark Gredy-Myhre, Sr., Midfielder.

URBANA — Caine Huart, Sr., Defender; Daniel Leal, Sr., Defender; Kevin Lopez-Olvera, Sr., Defender.

URBANA UNI HIGH — Peter Ivanov, Sr., Midfielder; Panagiotis Voulgaris, So., Midfielder.

WATSEKA — Nick Morales, So.; Caleb Parker, Sr., Defender; Hugo Solorzano, Sr., Midfielder.

Final Top 10
TEAM (Previous)     W-L-T
1. Urbana (1)    14-7-2
■ Two of top three scorers return
2. Hoopeston Area (7)    18-5
■ Three of top five scorers were seniors
3. Monticello (—)    13-8-2
■ Two of top three scorers return
4. Central (2)    15-5-3
■ Three of top five scorers return
5. St. Thomas More (5)    17-6-2
■ Three of top five scorers were seniors
6. Danville (3)    10-7-3
■ Two of top three scorers were seniors
7. Salt Fork (—)    12-7
■ Three of top four scorers return
8. Centennial (4)    7-10-2
■ Four of top five scorers return
9. Blue Ridge (8)      17-4-3
■ Three of top four scorers return
10. St. Joseph-Ogden (8)    16-6-3
■ Three of top four scorers were seniors

Final area standings
Big 12
Urbana    6-1-1    14-7-2
Normal Comm.    5-1-2    13-4-2
Champ. Central    5-1-2    15-5-3
Danville    5-2-1    10-7-3
Normal West    4-3    9-10-1
Bloomington    3-4-1    6-10-4
Centennial    2-3-1    7-10-2
Dec.MacArthur    1-8    2-12
Dec. Eisenhower    0-8    1-14-1

East Central Illinois
Judah Christian    4-0    12-3-2
Urbana Uni High    3-1    15-5-1
Bloom. Cornerstone    2-2    9-9-1
Decatur Christian    1-3    6-9
Normal Calvary    0-4    3-13-3

Okaw Valley
Monticello    3-0-1    13-8-2
Decatur St. Teresa    3-1    11-10
Unity    2-1-1    7-11-1
Warrensburg-L.    0-3-1    7-7-2
Meridian    0-3-1    0-14-1

Sangamon Valley
St. Thomas More    4-0    17-6-2
St. Joseph-Ogden    3-1    16-6-3
Clifton Central    1-2    3-14-1
Watseka    1-3    8-14-1
Iroquois West    0-3    0-11

Vermilion Valley
Hoopeston Area    7-1    18-5
Salt Fork    7-1    12-7
Oakwood    4-4    8-12-3
Georgetown-RF    2-6    2-14
Schlarman    0-8    2-15

Blue Ridge        17-4-3
Bismarck-Henning        7-5-1
Arthur-Lovington        5-5
Mahomet-Seymour        8-10-1
Fisher/GCMS        4-14-3
NOTE: B-H will be eligible to compete in the VVC in 2014.

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