Forest Sisk has seen enough college soccer games to know what he’s getting himself into.
After a stellar career at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High and four years at the Revolution Academy, Fisk could hardly have done more to prepare himself.
A Globe All-Scholastic at Lincoln-Sudbury last fall, he’s proven himself at every level with his pristine technical ability. And his quick decision-making could rival most politicians. While he doesn’t fancy himself a goal-scorer, the 18-year-old Sisk has created a highlight reel with enough jaw-droppers that Amherst College coach Justin Serpone thought each one was the goal of Sisk’s career — until he watched another that was even better.
And another. And another.
Incoming college freshmen don’t come more prepared than Fisk.
And yet, as Division 1 programs have already begun fall training — and Division 2 and 3 schools are watering the fields and setting up the cones for next week — there may not be a more daunting task than trying to make the jump from a high school senior to a college freshman.
“It’s a different pace,” observed Sisk. “You rarely find yourself able to jog for more than a minute. You’re either pressuring or countering.”
Said Ray Pavlik, the varsity boys’ coach at Dual County League rival Concord-Carlisle High: “The speed of play, the decision making, the athleticism of these kids is incredible. You can’t just be good on the ball.”
“The main difference,’’ added another Lincoln-Sudbury grad, Brendan Caslin, now a junior at Amherst, “is how much more physical college soccer is than anything else is. There are a lot of big, strong guys coming at you.”
Said Serpone: “It’s emotional and mental. What guys never really experienced is the emotional charge that goes along with college soccer.”
Cue the hiking sticks: Freshmen have a daunting mountain to climb.
Even the best freshmen.
Serpone, who has posted a 71-14-11 record at Amherst since taking over in 2007, believes one of the biggest hurdles for young soccer players is finding the right program to match their skills. Over the past decade, he said, the type of athlete playing soccer has changed. There’s still a place for the smaller, quicker player with a silky touch, but the bigger athletes with less technical ability seem to be taking over, at least in the American college game, he said.
The leading goal-scorer in Amherst history, Spencer Noon, a senior on this year’s squad, never played the sport at the club level, his coach said.
“He was a basketball guy, played football, maybe did some other things,” Serpone said.
Noon was recruited heavily for basketball out of high school in Farmington, Conn. But at 6 feet tall and 170 pounds, he was also one of the more athletic kids on the soccer field. In comparison, when Serpone left Winchester to play goalie for Drew University in 1997, he was 5-foot-8.
“Not big enough to play football,” he said. “But now soccer is cool. It’s a different type of kid playing it. They’re bigger, stronger guys.
“It’s amazing to me that even at a young age kids are getting conditioning work and a dynamic warmup. They’re taking care of their bodies. There’s more of an understanding of rest time. There’s more education. That all helps the athlete.”
Pavlik, who has led Concord-Carlisle to the Division 2 state semifinals in each of the past three seasons, winning it all in 2009 and 2010, said, “Looking back, I think players in general today are better than they used to be. The high school game is much better. And the talent level at the collegiate level is much better.”
Sisk represents that next wave of soccer talent in technical ability. But at 5-10, 158 pounds, he’s lacking in size, and it may not be fair to expect him to jump on the field at Division 3 Amherst in two weeks and become an immediate contributor.
But it’s certainly doable.
“He’s one of those of guys who do everything pretty well,” Serpone said. “He’s not like an A-plus at any one thing. He’s an A across the board. Whether or not that translates’’ to success in the college game, he said, “it probably has nothing to do with soccer. It’s the mental adjustment.”
“It’s just a matter of putting in the hard work,’’ said Caslin, who played in all 20 games for Amherst last year after struggling in his freshman campaign. “It sometimes can be hard to make yourself do it. I think going into my freshman year, I wasn’t as prepared and fit as I should have been. I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was.”
He has warned Sisk, who has been nursing a groin injury from the spring, and has only recently been able to start working out again.
Sisk will have his body ready because he needs to — and not just to help the team win or to impress his new coach, he said, but to play the way he likes to play, the only way he knows how to play, where he’s constantly running up and down the field.
He’s one of those rare players who can impact a game whether the ball is stuffed in his own box or bouncing up the field toward goal. And to keep doing that well at a higher level will be a test on his body. “It’s high school soccer on steroids,” Sisk said. “It’s a lot of run and gun and a lot of high pressure.”
And the substitution rules become much less friendly than they were in high school. A player is allowed to reenter the game just once, only if he’s removed in the first half and returns in the second. But Sisk should be able to adjust.
While coach Bryan Scales has a saying at the Revolution Academy, calling the return from fall soccer a “high school hangover,” Sisk said it takes no more than a few days to get used to the increased speed of the game, playing a ball after two touches instead of three or four. He isn’t a dribbler, anyway. He’s a facilitator, a communicator — a leader.
But the captain’s armband doesn’t go to freshmen.
“I won’t try to become Cristiano,’’ he said, referring to a famed Portuguese footballer. “I just want to make an impact.”