By Adam Knorr
Local Sports Journal

SPRING LAKE – Keegan George is a soccer player – but you wouldn’t guess it at first glance.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior could easily be mistaken for a football linebacker. And he gave football a chance as a youngster – about the time he started playing soccer – but ended up choosing the original “fútbol” as his fall sport.

Spring Lake's Keegan George throws the ball in during action against Fruitport. Photo/Jason Goorman

Spring Lake’s Keegan George throws the ball in during action against Fruitport. Photo/Jason Goorman

Spring Lake soccer fans are certainly glad he did.

He was called up to varsity as a sophomore last year and immediately became an offensive force. His 13 goals and six assists in 2013 helped the Lakers earn a state runner-up finish.

George doesn’t take his contribution too seriously, preferring to focus on team results.

“I was hoping to come in and make an impact,” George said. “I was just trying to help the team.”

His presence on the varsity squad has been even more important this fall, since the Lakers lost several key seniors from last year’s team.

George hasn’t let his teammates down, notching seven goals and eight assists thus far, helping Spring Lake to a 12-1-3 overall record and 8-0 mark in the Lakes 8 Conference.

His best game was a recent four-goal performance in a league game against Fremont.

Spring Lake experienced its biggest win of the season Thursday, defeating archrival Fruitport 1-0 in overtime to take control of the conference race. The Lakers can clinch the title on Tuesday with a win over Ludington.

Fruitport won the conference in 2013, ending Spring Lake’s six-year grip on the title.

George said it was a very nice win in front of a big home crowd, but it may have been a little too close for comfort.

“I think it kind of hit us hard because we beat them the first time pretty handily and we had to go into overtime the second time,” George said. “We can’t just take a ‘we’re going to roll over teams’ mindset into games. Besides that it was a good win at home.”

As George developed his soccer skills over the years, he also continued to grow – and grow – in physical stature.

He recalls always being the tallest kid around, in elementary school, middle school and now high school. His huge frame, combined with his deft touch with a soccer ball, create serious problems for opposing defenses.

“I try to push kids off the ball and use my body to shield the ball,” George said. “I use my height as an advantage for corner kicks.”

While some soccer players with his type of frame may have trouble with stability and dexterity, neither is a problem for the Laker standout.

“He is balanced, physically balanced,” said Spring Lake head coach Jeremy Thelen. “He knows how to keep himself upright, take contact and play off of it.”

Thelen likens George to a truck among a field full of sports cars. The best players are often those who fit the Ferrari mold – Pele, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi – but George is out to prove that a pickup truck can be just as effective.

“In soccer, you have artists and soldiers,” Thelen said. “Keegan fills that soldier role – he does the grunt work. We play balls into his feet. He’s able to hold off the defense and lay off good passes to his teammates.”

Thelen says George has improved his overall game this season, becoming as much of a playmaker as he is a scorer.

George agrees.

“My passing is probably the best part of my game right now,” George said. “I’m trying to work on my foot skills and shooting.”

George, unsurprisingly, is also a varsity basketball standout for Spring Lake, and would like to focus on hoops in college.

For now, however, his mind is on Laker soccer, particulary with only a week of regular season games left, followed by the district tournament.

“I think we’re going to be really good in the postseason,” he said. “I think that we can make it all the way back to state again.”