The latest goalkeeper in a long line of all-state netminders from the Toledo area can be found not in the net this fall, but in the field.
St. John s senior Ben Phillips has played just one game as a goalie this year despite earning third team all-state honors at that position in the last two seasons.
Phillips was the Titans full time goalie throughout his freshman and sophomore years. But St. John s coach Mark Del Verne said he had a drop-off in offense and was forced to use Phillips as a center midfielder last year.
After we had a mass exodus of quality players, we still had a nice crop of goalkeepers. So we told Ben to be ready to play in the field, Del Verne said.
Phillips said he was ecstatic when Del Verne asked him to make the switch.
It was very exciting to help the team that way, he said. While it s fun to dominate as a goalie, you re still in a box. But in the field you have space to work and be creative.
Phillips had strictly played goal since he was 11 years old. But in his first action in the field in more than six years last season, he led the Titans with nine goals. I never had a doubt that I could perform in the field, Phillips said. This season he has a goal and an assist.
After playing the majority of the season as a midfielder last year, Phillips took over in net and led St. John s to the district final. Del Verne said it is rare to play someone in the field and net during the same season, especially someone of Phillips caliber.
He s a great keeper and a great field player, said Perrysburg coach Mike Timbrook. When Mark needs solid play in goal, he ll put Ben in goal.
Del Verne said the best goalies in the state have come from the Toledo area over the past seven years.
When he came to St. John s in 1998, Del Verne inherited keeper Nate Zechman, who was a first-team all-state player. Then Pete Dzubay dominated as an all-state goalie for Northview.
He was a freak and we thanked God when he left, but then came Casey Latchem at Perrysburg, Del Verne said. Latchem and Tom Yaggi of St. Francis also were all-state goalkeepers. Now it is Ben s turn, Del Verne said.
Phillips was the No. 2 goalie behind Latchem on the regional Olympic Development Program team. Latchem is now on scholarship at Ohio State, and Dzubay is the starting goalie for Michigan.
Ben knows he is just as good as those guys, and he knows he is well thought of across the state, Del Verne said. I think deep down he has always wanted his own light.
This is his year, Timbrook agreed. He has always taken a back seat behind Casey. Now he has his opportunity to shine.
Phillips said he is not concerned about the spotlight turning to him.
It s sort of incredible that five goalies out of Toledo have been all-state recently, he said. They re all outstanding goalies. Now they re in college and it s nice for me to finally be the one in Toledo.
Del Verne said he is sure Phillips will see some time in goal as the season goes along. We ll have to polish him up for playoffs, Del Verne said.
Phillips expects to play goal against the team s toughest opponents, including Findlay, Perrysburg and St. Francis.
He has some mystique, Del Verne said. Some teams don t think they can score on him. Sometimes he pulls off freakish stuff.
Phillips remembered one incredible save Phillips made in a sectional final last year against Northview.
He came out and the forward beat him. He was out of the play, Del Verne said. But he got right back up and dove and made the save. It was classic. He was wearing an orange shirt. He looked like Superman. He flew right across net and he looked real graceful, like he had it all the time.
I like to rob a forward out of a goal, Phillips said. There is nothing like it.
Still, Phillips has played goalkeeper in only one game this year, a 2-1 loss to Detroit Catholic Central. Del Verne said because St. John s does not play in a league, he puts the best teams in the region on his schedule. Currently, St. John s is 2-3-2. The Titans tied Northview and Southview.
We have to get the team ready for the playoffs, he said. Developing goalie depth is important.
Sophomore goalie Nick Harpel stepped into the starter s role as a freshman last year. He s been a very good shot stopper, Del Verne said.
Phillips said he has confidence in Harpel. Nick is the man, he said. We have a real advantage with him.
Phillips, who has been playing goalie for 11 years, said he has always worked on his skill in the field.
I keep my field skills in check. I have a passion for soccer. I love watching it and playing it.
He is freakishly good at both positions, Del Verne said.
Phillips said the team needed a spark plug and he was willing to provide it. I ll do whatever I can do to help the team.
Phillips, who was selected as team captain for the second straight season, said he wants to be back in net as soon as possible, because his passion for the position has returned.
I compare the goalkeeper to a quarterback in football, Phillips said. You see the entire field. You see the game develop. I feel a goalkeeper can dominate a game. I control the flow. A big save can boost your team just as a big goal changes momentum.
Phillips is one of 11 seniors on a Titan team that he said has the right tools to make a good run at a state title.
Phillips, who is in the National Honor Society with a 3.912 grade-point average, said he would like to play soccer in college, but he has not heard anything too serious from college coaches.
Phillips said he is considering walking on at Michigan, where Dzubay would be a senior and he would be a freshman.
I ve had a few things sent to me [from colleges], Phillips said. Mainly what I am looking for is academics first. If I can play soccer that would be great. I d love to keep soccer as part of my life. It is an outlet for extra energy. But I won t be playing soccer the rest of my life, so I have to concentrate on school first.