Jason Gaylord is a Kendall, N.Y., product now starting for the No. 5 ranked team in the nation, Old Dominion University. The Monarchs have started the year 4-0, outscoring their opponents by a score of 15-2.We recently caught up with him to talk about fighting through injuries, choosing a school and realistic aiming for a national championship.
U90: Can you in a round-about way trace your journey from high school to junior year at Old Dominion?
Jason Gaylord: My journey from high school to my junior year here at Old Dominion has been full of hard work. Coming from a small town (Kendall, N.Y.) I had to find a way to get noticed. Through the great youth program in upstate NY, I started my development with Rochester Futbol Club and ODP and later played in the first couple years of Empire United in the Academy.
Empire United got me noticed and brought me to ODU. I suffered a bad ankle injury in my first year of playing just three games into my freshman season. The trainers told me I was going to be out for four weeks, which for college soccer is a lot of the season.
Even worse my injured occurred a week before we hosted No. 2 in the nation North Carolina. I lived in the training room for the next week with the hope of getting healthy. Game day came around and my coach Alan Dawson pulled me aside and knowing it was one of the biggest games of the season asked if I could play? My decision was easy and 90 minutes later we went onto upset No. 2 in the nation, 2-1.
Although I will never forget that game for the rest of my life it turned out to ruin the rest of my season. My ankle was completely destroyed and for the rest of the season my availability was game-to-game until we got a rest before NCAAs.
Mentally this was a very tough year for me. My sophomore season was really my year to prove to myself and my coaches that ODU was the choice for me. We had another solid year losing in the Colonial Atheltic Association final and second round of the NCAAs to Indiana. I played a couple different roles from left back to center back to defensive center mid and was named to the CAA All-Tournament Team. This year has been really exciting so far starting off 4-0 and are headed to Nebraska to play Creighton this weekend, who are coming off a Final Four finish last year. We also have a game on Fox Soccer Channel on Friday Sept. 28 vs. rival George Mason.
U90: For our younger players, what’s the best advice in trying to pick a school? How hard was it for you?
JG: My advice for young players on making a college choice is simple, Pick a school were you can see yourself happy on-and-off the field. Find a campus where you would be happy if soccer wasn’t your main reason for living there. Then soccer is just a added bonus.
Also, try to really get to know the coaching staff and team members because those are the people you will be with everyday for the next four years. For me, ODU was a easy choice. I am a very competitive person so I wanted to find a school where winning was in its pedigree. Also I wanted a soccer program that was going to challenge me everyday and develop me into the best player possible. The only setback for me is living so far away from home. ODU is located in Norfolk, Virg. — an 11 hour drive from Upstate NY.
U90: Every team starts the year thinking they can be national champions, but No. 5 in the Nation means ODU is in a legitimate spot. What do you need to do to achieve your goals?
JG: Honestly this year is the year for us. I have never been apart of a more talented team. Along with talent we have very strong team chemistry. We are experienced after only losing one starter from last season and have the qualities of a championship team.
However, there are little things we need to do along the way to help us achieve our goal. Winning on the road has always been a enormous problem for us and that needs to change for us to take that next step. Every team needs a little bit of luck and if a few bounces going our way can be the difference between us winning and national championship or not making it at all.
A huge part of our team is holding each other accountable for doing your individual job on the field. When we step on the field its all business and we are working for each other every day. We also have learned to never over look a opponent and focus on one game at a time because college soccer is a crazy game and anyone can beat anyone.
U90: Was there a feeling that this year’s squad could be this good?
JG: We have very high expectations this season. We are returning 10 starters and a lot of us decided to stay here together and train all summer. Our coaches have held us to a high standard since we were freshman, which we are now carrying over to our newcomers. The big difference this year is we are a lot deeper than we have ever been. Every practice people are competing for starting spots and playing time.
U90: What areas of your game are your biggest strength? What have you had to work the hardest at?
JG: My biggest strength that my coaches always tell me is I am a gamer. I am very competitive and hate losing so when the game is on the line I take upon my self to step up. Another strength of mine is I am composed on the ball and like to “play” which for a lot of center backs isn’t always the case. I like the ball on ground being knocked around.
My biggest struggle as a player is staying mentally-prepared and focused in practice. I have never been a good practice player and coming into college game I had to really focus on staying focused and working hard every practice because there is always someone behind you trying to take your spot.
U90: If there was one coach or teammate who helped you the most along the way, who was it?
JG: Paul Valenti: current coach of Empire United Soccer Academy. I started playing with Valenti at age 12 for Rochester Futbol Club and then we both moved over to Empire United when the Academy started up in 2008. Even though I hate to admit it to him, Valenti has made me into the soccer player I am today. I can honestly say that without his guidance for six years I would have never made it ODU or college soccer. I couldn’t have asked for a better guy to look up to when I was growing up.