Jake Sellett older

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Former St. Thomas More boys' soccer player Jake Sellett, the new Sabers coach.

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CHAMPAIGN — Jake Sellett is so recently removed from St. Thomas More boys' soccer that he can call himself a former teammate of at least one player on the Sabers' 2020 roster.

Did that give the 2018 STM graduate pause when deciding whether or not to apply as the team's next head coach?

"At first, I thought that'd be kind of strange," the 20-year-old Sellett told The News-Gazette on Friday.

But Sellett already had two seasons of coaching experience with the Sabers under his belt — as volunteer assistant in 2018 and the program's junior varsity coach in 2019.

So what better time than now, Sellett figured, with longtime STM soccer coach James Johnson departing last month to take over the Parkland women's soccer program.

"It was a dream come true to get the opportunity," Sellett said. "When I first got the interview, I was really excited. I prepared hard. I spent a lot of time prepping for it and tried to collect all my thoughts."

The approach paid off for Sellett, who was announced Friday as the new Sabers boys' soccer coach.

He'll be just the second person to lead the STM boys' team in the last 10 years, with Johnson at the helm the previous nine seasons.

"It honestly meant everything," Sellett said. "Hearing the words that the administration trusts me to be his successor, it was surreal. Just a couple years ago ... I saw the team as Coach Johnson's brand. But when the news came, it was a really incredible moment for my family and myself."

STM won three Class 1A regional championships with Sellett on the team, and Sellett was a News-Gazette All-Area first-team goalkeeper as a senior in 2017.

Sellett, whose younger brother Joe helped the Sabers to a 2019 1A regional crown prior to graduating this year, said he had "a lot of mixed thoughts" about applying to be the new face of Sabers boys' soccer.

"I was happy for him," Sellett said of Johnson. "I still am happy for him. I know he's earned it. Honestly, if anyone deserves to get a new shot and succeed, it's James.

"My second reaction was ... it's big shoes to fill. Everyone around me, everyone that's seen the program knows that James, he established the culture of this team."

Johnson compiled a 147-57-17 record across his nine seasons leading the boys' team, including five regional victories. Johnson also was in charge of the STM girls for the same amount of time, and that coaching vacancy has not yet been filled.

After conversations with his family, Sellett, who is still a student studying business at the University of Illinois, decided to throw his hat in the ring.

Sellett will continue taking classes at the UI this fall, saying he's arranged his schedule so it doesn't conflict with STM soccer matters.

"The team we currently have, it's a good fit for me," Sellett said. "I've worked with these guys a lot and coached most of these guys in JV, so I'm excited to get to work with these guys and the rest of the coaching staff."

The Sabers graduated 11 players from their 2019 roster, so the young first-time head coach will inherit a relatively young crop of athletes for his inaugural season.

"That combination means that we're going to have to work extra hard to build an identity," Sellett said, "and establish a culture from the get-go."

Sellett feels his past two seasons working with the STM program should provide "a huge boost" in a time when Sellett's practice plans are affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"It'd be a lot harder if I hadn't seen them play," Sellett said. "I want to give the guys a sense of certainty, the fact that they recognize my face. ... Just having a coach is going to be big for the guys so there's a direction."

Sellett is a product of Johnson's coaching and teaching style. In fact, the way Johnson and his staff went about those activities piqued Sellett's interest in one day joining the coaching ranks himself.

So those around the Sabers' matches should expect to see some similarities between Johnson's methods and what Sellett will deploy.

"We play passionately, but we also play smart," Sellett said. "All of our teams are fit. All of our teams really work the hardest."

Colin Likas is the preps coordinator at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).