Like father, like son
Mac Steeves also builds on early start for Needham High squad
Don Brock has coached soccer at Needham High for 44 years, accumulating more than 600 wins through parts of six decades. He has coached All-State and All-New England players, as well as high school All-Americans.
Just two players, however, have earned a varsity jersey as a freshman.
The first? His current assistant, Jay Steeves, who set all sorts of records playing goal for the Rockets in the early 1980s.
The other? Jay’s son, Mac Steeves.
“Talk about pressure,’’ Brock said. “That’s pressure.’’
The younger Steeves, who joined the squad in 2009, has developed into one of the most dangerous scoring threats in the region, piling up 39 points (24 goals, 15 assists) as a junior this season.
But it hasn’t been as easy as the 6-foot-2, 200-pound striker makes it look.
“Any time you have a son and you’re coaching the team, it’s an awkward situation,’’ said Brock.
“It creates different kinds of pressure that aren’t there for a lot of other kids. Sometimes the older classmen might have resented him a little bit.’’
But Steeves has been groomed to have a one-track mind since he was young. There’s not a whole lot more important to him than winning, and he’ll do what he has to, as long as his team comes out on top.
Of his 24 goals this season, he has scored plenty from outside the 18-yard box. He remembers two free kicks that he converted from at least 25 yards out. One frequent observer at Needham games this fall swears he’s seen Steeves drill 40-yard shots on target as if it was routine.
Newton North High coach Roy Dow, whose squad learned the hard way not to give Steeves as much as a foot of open space, said, “He’s one of the harder people to keep track of. He can finish with both feet, he strikes the ball well - he’s definitely just a very good player.’’
But of all the highlight-reel goals off the feet of Steeves this fall, one comes to mind as the best. It wasn’t a long drive, it wasn’t a pretty drop-shot, and it wasn’t a diving header. A simple flick at close range, it connected for the overtime goal that lifted the Rockets past Silver Lake Regional on Nov. 9 and into the Division 1 South semifinals.
His son “just wants to win,’’ said Jay Steeves. “He has to hear me all the time, talking about that championship game in 1983.’’
“Yeah, when he lost with 11 seconds left’’ in the state title match, Mac added. “I know that story well. Against Chicopee. His junior year. He tells me it was the worst feeling in the world. I couldn’t even imagine that.’’
“It was,’’ his father said. “I still remember sitting there after that goal went in, looking around and realizing what had happened. I see some of the guys still and we’ll grab a beer and say, ‘Remember that game?’ It was a heartbreaker.’’
Needham lost its next game, falling in overtime to Greater New Bedford, 3-2, in the sectional semis. Mac said he had similar feeling as his father’s, with the heart-sinking goal taking a minute to settle in before that dreadful word became real.
“Ugh, I am not a fan of losing,’’ he said. “Every time we play and I lose, it’s like losing the state championship’’
No one in the Steeves family ever has been. Mac’s older sister, Courtney, who graduated from Needham last year and is playing at Franklin Pierce, was a defender. Younger sister Kayla, who started as a freshman on the Needham girls’ varsity team this fall, also plays some defense. And their father, of course, was in goal.
Backyard soccer games at their house weren’t like most others.
“Courtney, she’s a really good defender,’’ said Mac. “She’s strong and pretty fast, so it’s hard to get by her. I definitely gained a competitive mind set from that. I always wanted to beat her.’’
While even a simple game of Monopoly had to be eliminated from Steeves family gatherings to keep the peace, there continues to be the added dynamic of the father and son relationship on the soccer field.
Brock, who has coached countless of his former players’ sons, has learned when to intervene.
“They’ll occasionally have some words with each other,’’ Brock said. “I’ll say, ‘Hey Dad, I’ll talk to him about it.’ Sometimes I have to step in as sort of the older-grandfather type.’’
Jay, who has been assistant since 2000, has picked up plenty of coaching tricks. But one he is only starting to learn is that of teaching his son.
“It’s interesting,’’ he said. “After a bad game we’ll just go separate ways. But it’s hard for Mac. It’s like Michael Bradley and Bob Bradley,’’ he said, referring to the former coach of the US men’s national team, whose decision to include his son, Michael, on the starting roster for the 2010 World Cup squad drew some scrutiny. “But then Michael performed and that’s all that mattered.’’
“I knew right away I had to perform,’’ Mac said. “I had to put up the numbers.’’
“I don’t even want to think about what would have happened’’ had his son not done well, after making the team as a freshman, Jay Steeves said. “But that’s why we have all these statistics these days.’’
The numbers have been there. Maybe not to Mac’s liking - he was one goal away this fall from matching his teammate on the FC Greater Boston Bolts club team, Aidan Browne, from Archbishop Williams - but he still has one more year to prove that he’s the best.
Brock thinks another strong season could earn Mac All-American honors, and he has aspirations to play Division 1 soccer in college.
But first, he wants to win. A state title next fall would be the “best thing ever,’’ Mac said.
And for all those who intend to stop him, Dow has some advice. “Don’t let him out of your sight,’’ the opposing coach said. “Don’t give him a chance to even get his head up. Even a split second is going to hurt you.’’