Boys Soccer: Lincoln-Way East’s Jim Ralph Herald-News 2012 Player of the Year
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media November 25, 2012 4:48PM
Senior Jim Ralph, center defender at Lincoln-Way East High School, has been named the Herald-News boys soccer player of the year as seen Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, in Frankfort. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 27, 2012 6:04AM
Flash back to the middle of the 2011 season, when things weren’t going well for Jim Ralph and his Lincoln-Way East teammates.
As the Griffins struggled through a disappointing regular season, longtime coach Brian Papa was fired amid a controversy over an alleged comment about an opposing player. Assistant coach Ryan Decker took over the program.
“With controversy comes rewards,” Ralph said. “Last year was not the best time as a team for us, but it brought us together. This year we were a very strong, very together team. We had a brotherhood from start to finish.”
Thirteen months after the scandal, Ralph and his senior teammates finished their careers with the Griffins, leaving behind a trail of success that seemed nearly impossible in October 2011.
After making a stunning run to a sectional title a year ago, Lincoln-Way East went 15-3-6 in 2012, capturing the program’s first conference title by running the table with a 6-0 mark in the SouthWest Suburban Blue.
“It’s an absolute privilege to be a captain of a team that won the conference for the first time ever at Lincoln-Way East,” Ralph said. “Coach Decker has that conference trophy in his office and he’s not giving up. We joke around and he says he’s going to have it bolted down to his desk so no one can take it. We know it means a lot.”
On a well-rounded squad that lacked a dominant scorer, Ralph was the clear standout. In earning All-State honors, he led a defense that posted 12 shutouts and allowed just 16 goals in 24 games. He also became a major offensive weapon on set pieces.
Ralph’s contributions to the Griffins’ history-making season helped him earn the title of Herald-News 2012 Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
“That’s an amazing honor,” he said. “It’s absolutely phenomenal. It’s unreal.”
Ralph’s leadership abilities were as vital to his team’s success as his skills.
“He was our emotional leader,” Decker said. “He got guys prepared. He got guys fired up. He was the glue that held our guys together and clearly our defensive success was based around Jimmy.”
Ralph said he’s played soccer since age 4 and has played defense for the past 11 years. He’s happy to trade the glory of being a top goal-scorer for dominating on the backline.
“My goal is to keep shutouts and that’s exactly what we did this year,” he said. “I love orchestrating everything from the back. I see the entire field in front of me and try to think two or three steps ahead.”
While he may not care much about scoring, Ralph was second on the team with six goals.
“I have to admit scoring is pretty fun,” he said.
East’s season ended in disappointment with a 1-0 loss to rival Lincoln-Way Central in a sectional semifinal.
“Soccer is a cruel game sometimes,” Ralph said. “You just accept it and move on. We didn’t make it as far as we planned, but the memories and brotherhood and the friends and the connections with coach Decker are just unbelievable.”
Ralph said he’s “100 percent sure” he’ll play college soccer. He has offers from several Division II and Division III schools but has his heart set on playing Division I and has had contact with some Division I schools.
“Competitive soccer is my life,” he said. “It’s in my blood. I’m 100 percent Irish and my family is all about soccer — or football in Ireland. I want to play professional soccer. It’s been my dream my whole life.”
Ralph hopes one day he’ll have a legacy at East similar to 2007 graduate Andrew Duran, who plays for the Seattle Sounders in Major League Soccer.
“Everyone knows his name in the Lincoln-Way East soccer program,” Ralph said. “I just hope down the road I’m the defender that everyone knows the name of.”