WEST CHICAGO – Keeping his adrenaline in check can be a challenge, but Wheaton Academy junior Grant Rougas said beginning matches on the sideline has its benefits.
“I like that role because I can see how the game is going before [coming in],” Rougas said. “I’m never really surprised. Sometimes teams come out with a lot of energy and will surprise you, but when you come in and sub in, you already know how the game is going, so you know what you need to do to make an impact.”
The Geneva resident’s knack for doing so is evident to Warriors coach Jeff Brooke, whose top-seeded team begins postseason play tonight against St. Francis in an IHSA Class 2A Glenbard South Regional semifinal.
Brooke called Rougas – who has scored 10 goals this season as a Warriors super-sub – “an incredible spark off the bench.”
“We thought he’d probably get quite a few assists by slotting balls across the face, but he’s really surprised us with his finishing ability, out of the air and also just when the ball’s at his feet,” Brooke said.
Rougas rotates in with standouts such as Casey Zimmerman and Reid Culberson at a winger spot for the Warriors (17-3-1), who clinched the Suburban Christian Conference championship last week in a hotly contested win against Marmion.
Brooke said Rougas has been adept at combining with players such as Ty Seager and Sam Hardy on the attack.
“We have a lot of speed across the front, so we bring him in to kind of bring that variety and get the ball to his feet rather than trying to fly it to the corner flag,” Brooke said. “So any time we’re looking for a change of tactics, he’s a great option.”
Rougas recognizes he’s not as blazing-quick as some of his teammates, so he compensates with extra offseason focus on skillwork. He said the “foundation” of his game was laid as a young player training with the Strikers club program and drilling under longtime area soccer guru Bernie Kehoe, an assistant coach at St. Charles East.
“It’s different for defenders that are used to marking up real fast guys, [defending] someone that isn’t really making through-ball runs,” Rougas said. “Especially Ty, he gets the ball, and he beats anyone. I’d put Ty against anyone. He can beat them just with his speed.
“I have to play a little bit differently if I want to get by them. I have to use my skills.”
Rougas’ older brother, Mark, also played for Wheaton Academy, and now competes collegiately at Cornerstone University (Mich.), an NAIA program.
One of the highlights of Rougas’ season so far was netting a pair of goals against his hometown school, Geneva. The Warriors beat the Vikings, 3-0.
Rougas is familiar with several of Geneva’s players, including close friend Jason Lagger.
“I talked to Lagger,” Rougas said of the match. “It wasn’t anything mean or anything, more I’d just push him, make a comment. It was just for fun.”
Rougas was a captain of the Warriors’ JV team as a sophomore, and was called up to varsity to experience the team’s trip to the IHSA Class 2A state semifinals last November.
This year’s Warriors returned six starters but seemed unlikely to fare as well as they have once scoring dynamo Grant Stoneman – a Wisconsin recruit – opted not to play high school soccer this fall. Brooke noted the team absorbed another substantial hit when midfielder Jacob Kapitaniuk tore his ACL in early August, and called this season “such a unique journey.”
“So our coaching staff is sitting at tryouts with a very different perspective than even just a month [before],” Brooke said. “The way the guys have come together as a team … I’m just so proud of the way we’ve done it. We had to buy into some team concepts.”