Published: October 28, 2010
Fix your eyes on CJ Sapong.
He’s midair; body corkscrewed high above the pitch. He’s celebrating … well at the moment he’s celebrating a goal but it could be anything: fresh air; life … the moment.
Sapong (#5 Top 100 Upperclassmen) has a lot to rejoice and he knows it. And so he does.
He plays the game like a game – loose and unburdened.
“When I’m on the field I try to play free and with passion,” said Sapong, the driving force behind the James Madison program. “I love the game and I feel like I’d be doing it a disservice if I didn’t appreciate the joy of playing and how well I have it.”
Whatever it is (Enthusiasm? Panache? Swagger?) Sapong most certainly has it.
All-Conference and NSCAA All-Region First Team honors; Hermann Trophy National Player of the Year Watch List; promising professional prospect – he has all those too, but the hardware is hardly weighing on Sapong.
He’s been known to dance on occasion. And then there’s the goal-scoring back flip that only comes out on special occasions – like when he recorded a hat-trick Sept 12 against Longwood
Sapong doesn’t need any life altering revelations about the importance of appreciating every moment; save those for Lifetime network movies.
Having said that, he did get a nice reminder about where he comes from and why he’s fortunate when he took a trip to Ghana last December.
Visiting the birth place of both his father and mother, Sapong was struck by the passion people had for the game. He brought with him a sack of old soccer balls to hand out to appreciative kids, who treated them like a sack of new soccer balls.
“The trip was humbling and also motivated me,” Sapong said. “Seeing the way people support soccer and play as if they were competing in the World Cup makes me want to play that much harder.”
And what happens when a gifted athlete adds an extra layer of motivation?
CJ Sapong’s 2010 season happens.
Blending his rare athleticism with an ever evolving skill and understanding, Sapong has set the Colonial Athletic Association on fire this year.
He has 11 goals and eight assists in 15 games, but more impressive then the lofty numbers is the growing maturity.
Sapong, a team captain, has spent more time in the attacking midfield this year where his responsibilities have broadened. He now has more to worry about.
Chief among his concern is reaching the postseason. His four-year career is as decorated as they come, but one thing he doesn’t own is a trip to the playoffs. Not one.
Not even a spot in the CAA Conference tournament.
“I don’t want to go through my career without any (team) trophies, especially when I see the talent we have,” said Sapong, referring to able teammates like Paul Wyatt, Markus Bjorkheim, Patrick Innes, Paul McAulay and Ken Manahan. “It’s a huge goal we have and hopefully it works out.”
At the moment, the dream is alive but murky. The Dukes (8-5-2, 3-4-1) would likely need to win their final three games and climb over a host of teams to get in.
What is more probable is that Sapong will be playing the game professionally around this time next year. But don’t think for a minute that he’s carrying the idea around on those weightless shoulders of his.
That’s not his style.
“I just play,” Sapong said. “I don’t worry about goals or the future. If I play passionately everything will take care of itself.”