In an era in which professional athletes routinely engage in self-serving histrionics when they do something good – even if their team is losing by a lopsided margin – the unselfish attitude of DePauw University junior Jake Pezzuto is refreshing.
Pezzuto, the starting goalkeeper for DePauw’s men’s soccer team, is not interested in personal accolades. Conversing with the St. Charles North graduate, he constantly shifts the discussion back to how his team is doing.
“I personally don’t like talking about how I’m playing,” he said. “I try to not think about it.”
It’s clear to objective observers, however, that Pezzuto is playing very well in his first season starting for the Tigers. After minding the net for three straight shutout victories during a stretch of five days in September, he was named the Player of the Week in the North Coast Athletic Conference.
“It came as a surprise to me,“ he said of the recognition. “In all honesty, I didn’t expect to get an award. … I personally believe that award was a team effort. If you look at the three games … our team as a whole just played phenomenally. Our defensive effort was a team effort.”
Still, the shutouts wouldn’t have occurred if Pezzuto had not made 11 saves in those matches. It was part of a stretch in which DePauw shut out six straight opponents en route to an 11-0-1 start to the season. The fast start vaulted the Tigers into the top 10 in NCAA Division III national rankings.
DePauw’s unbeaten streak was finally snapped Saturday with a 3-1 loss to the No. 1 ranked team in the country, Ohio Wesleyan (14-0), which also happens to be an NCAC member.
“Our goal is to win the conference tournament and win a national championship,” Pezzuto said. “I don’t think Saturday’s loss changes anything. … We outplayed them for 75 minutes. We kind of lost focus for one play and they got the [first] goal.”
Pezzuto said he began looking at playing college soccer at the instigation of his club team coach when Pezzuto was a junior in high school.
“My mother and I sat down and we talked about what level of soccer I wanted to play in college,” he said. “I kind of settled on the idea of Division III being the option for me.”
Pezzuto says he looked at every Division III school in the country.
“I’m not kidding about that, either.”
That’s 449 schools, if you’re keeping score. But Pezzuto says DePauw’s kinesiology program immediately attracted his attention.
“It was one of the only things I could see myself really enjoying getting involved with as an undergrad,” he says.
A visit to the DePauw campus in Greencastle, Ind., about 40 miles west of Indianapolis, clinched the decision.
“I fell in love with the campus, fell in love with the atmosphere, loved the way the team played,” Pezzuto said.
Pezzuto spent his first two years at DePauw watching the action from the sidelines, but not despairing about the absence of playing time.
“The way we train … every day is competitive. You can’t take a day off,” he said.
“Each of those [starting 11] spots is earned. I kind of went in with the attitude, ‘I’m going to do everything in my power to make that decision difficult for my coach.’ ”
DePauw set a school-record for wins with 16 in 2011, Pezzuto’s freshman year. Last season, the team went 12-2-5 and won the NCAC Tournament for the second year in a row to earn a spot in the NCAA Division III national playoffs behind senior goalkeeper Tony Halterman.
“Sophomore year, I kind of started to realize I was playing well,” Pezzuto said. “I personally felt I was on the right path to take the starting spot for this year.”
He’s also continued on the right path academically, picking up a minor in Russian studies to go along with his kinesiology major.
“I knew I had to take a language,” said Pezzuto, adding that he was not confident enough in the Spanish he took in high school to test out of the requirement. “I looked through the other languages that DePauw offered. I saw Russian and I thought that would be interesting to learn. How many people can say they speak Russian?”
Pezzuto hopes he doesn’t have to say “dosvedanya” – farewell – to this season until Dec. 7. That’s when the Division III national championship match will be played in San Antonio.
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. To suggest local college athletes deserving of recognition, email him at email@example.com.