The Mooney senior will play at Akron next year.
By BILL SULLIVAN
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- When Zack Hernan started playing soccer, his shin guards extended over his knees, limiting his ability to run.
But, when you're 5 and dream of being just like your big brother Michael (who was 8 at the time), that's a small price to pay.
Now a senior at Cardinal Mooney High, Hernan has finally passed his brother by, at least on the soccer field.
After considering offers from a variety of colleges, Hernan will accept a scholarship to play soccer at the University of Akron next year. Make that, top-ranked Akron.
"He was 5 and playing at Holy Family [grade school]," his mother, Jane, said. "His shin guards we so big they came up and were a hindrance at his knees.
"That's when we knew Zack had a talent at it -- he could still run without falling down like the other kids were," Mrs. Hernan said.
Hernan has learned to run well and score plenty of goals in the past dozen years.
"He just wanted to do whatever Michael did and Michael was playing," Mrs. Hernan said.
Hernan spoke to both Ohio State and Notre Dame but knew Akron was the correct choice.
"I'll play holding midfielder at Akron," Hernan said. "I'll defend the center backs and push up [in the attack]."
On the surface it would seem other, more prestigious colleges would have more to offer. But to Hernan, being recruited by the best team in the country was enticing.
So, did the fact that the Zips (14-0-1) are top ranked make the choice easier?
"It even made it harder because there's going to be more great kids that are going to come in," Hernan said. "It's a nice problem to have because they're going to be recruiting from all over the country and kids are going to be wanting to be going there. It helped but it also kind of scared me at the same time."
To put it in perspective, the top-ranked college football team is Southern Cal. In April, North Carolina won the national championship in men's basketball. Texas is top ranked in college baseball. And, Akron is ranked first in men's soccer. That's how good the Zips are.
Akron wins often but Hernan has become accustomed to winning his soccer matches, too.
During his four-year career at Mooney, Hernan has seen the Cardinals rack up a 74-8-3 mark and twice play in the state championship game.
After substituting in the state title win as a freshman where his brother was a starter, the Cardinals had an off season in Hernan's sophomore year -- losing in the regional final.
As a junior, Hernan scored 12 goals and had 10 assists from his midfield position. Mooney went 20-2-1 and lost the state championship match in overtime, 1-0,
This year he has 27 goals and 12 assists through 18 matches, including four tallies in the district semifinal Monday.
Over his career, Hernan has scored 62 goals and 41 assists.
When he's not playing soccer for Mooney, he competes in the Olympic Development Program with many of the best prep players in the state.
"I play ODP and my assistant coach is Mario Sanchez," Hernan said. "He's also an assistant coach at the University of Akron. We've been talking since February."
Mooney coach Lenny Krispinsky (157-89-19 in 15 years) has seen Hernan grow as a player.
"He's improved every year," Krispinsky said.
"Foot skills, speed, conditioning, endurance."
Krispinsky said he was not surprised Akron went after Hernan.
"They always seem to pick the cream of the crop," Krispinsky said. "They went after him and made him a pretty good offer."
With a 4.0 grade-point average, Hernan could go nearly anywhere. But Akron seemed the right fit.
They may even have some shin guards to fit him.