Jack Lillis was 4-years-old when he first tried playing soccer. It was sports-love at first kick.
“I instantly liked it. I’ve always just liked having the ball at my feet. I’ve always been into running and I like being all over the field. Just that primary goal of having one ball and you put it in the goal,” he says. “I never really thought about playing any other sport — I just loved the idea of soccer.”
Jack did end up trying other sports, including basketball and even swimming, but it was soccer that he loved and stuck with.
And he was good at it, especially, notes Jack’s mother, Colleen Lillis, once he got a little older and ball juggling and control drills came into play.
“He was really good at juggling and hit like 2,000 juggles,” she says. “He has great ball control. He can pass the ball to someone else incredibly well. He sees them across the field, it goes straight to their foot, he has that vision of how the play is supposed to go.”
Those technical skills, and sense of the field, have always been natural strengths Jack can rely on.
“I see and read other players eyes, knowing where the next move is going to be so I can anticipate the next play,” he says. “I’m a good passer, knowing where my teammates are going, directing them with my body movements and eye contact, tell them where to be at the right time — it’s all about timing for me.”
But as Jack moved up in the club soccer world, and started playing as a freshman and sophomore at Tuscarora High School, where he is now a rising junior and plays center midfield, he found his preference for being the patient, technical set up man with the perfect passes wasn’t enough.
“What was lacking was that drive to take the ball and go score,” Colleen says. “He’s more unselfish and wants to play the team game.”
“I wasn’t as much of an offensive threat, I was more of a passer and also a defensive player. I wasn’t as assertive on offense,” Jack adds. “I’ve definitely had to work on my aggressiveness.”
Jack recognized in himself a certain lack of confidence on the field, despite his skill level, and set about remedying it. He had heard from other athletes that Players Fitness and Performance, in Frederick, was a gym and training center that worked with athletes on their mental preparedness as well as making them faster and stronger, and decided it was something he wanted to try for himself.
“I had heard a lot of the motivational messages they give,” Jack says. “I came in there hoping to change my mindset and get myself willing to go into more of these tackles and be more confident in my own play.”
“It’s always exciting when a young athlete comes in mature enough to understand that and want to grow,” adds PFP Coach Travis Bewley, who has worked extensively with Jack. “He was humble enough to realize that was a big area of improvement for him, a big opportunity for him to grow and develop.”
“Confidence and strength go hand in hand,” Bewley says, and PFP set about making Jack stronger and faster, while simultaneously working on his mindset on the field.
“They are always making sure I get the most out of every single workout I get in there,” Jack says of the past year and a half of his work with PFP. “And just the positive attitude they have, making everyone feel welcome in there — I thought that was great.”
That investment in every single workout, made possible in part by Jack’s willingness to focus on the little details and refinements, according to Bewley, have begun paying dividends.
“I’ve realized I’ve become much more confident with my own game, and I have found myself focusing more on my strengths than my weaknesses,” Jack Says. “From a physical standpoint, I am able to get to more loose balls, I am able to win more tackles; I am just able to do more for my team on the field than I was two years ago.”
He’s scoring more goals, getting more time on the field, and, for the month of August, Jack is being recognized as the PFP Athlete of the Month.
“I was just really excited about that, being recognized for an award like that after working so hard,” he says.
It wasn’t a hard choice for the PFP team, according to Bewley.
“We look at character when we pick these athletes and he exemplifies everything we stand for,” Bewley says. “He’s a great kid, good in the classroom, grows as a leader and he is actively seeking to get better in all those areas.”
Having built his confidence, Bewley and the PFP team now see Jack’s innate leadership qualities beginning to blossom, as he cultivates new goals.
“There is something about him that kind of warms up the group. He has that contagious positive energy that a good leader should be able to turn on when needed,” Bewley says. “I know his high school has graduated a few captains last year, so I think he’s is going to move into that leadership role with regards to that team.”
Jack’s hope for his junior high school soccer season is to become an All County player, and for his club team, Jack is looking to stand on the shoulders of last year and reach higher with his teammates.
“My team went to the state cup final, which is the whole state of Maryland. We finished second and were one game away from going to regionals,” he says. “That would be my goal for my team and myself, to get back to that point and win the state cup.”
Beyond that, there could be college soccer to consider, but for now, Jack is focused on getting better in the present. Becoming more consistent and winning the day, each and every day, and experiencing the sport he loves to the fullest.
Ever since I came into high school, playing under the lights at night, everyone watching — I’ve loved that feeling,” he says.
That’s Jack Lillis’s why. What’s your why?