Lewis Central boys soccer coach James Driver also coaches a group of nine- and 10-year-olds.
One day, senior goalkeeper Cole Jensen showed up to one of their games, and you could say he was a hit with the youngsters.
At the end of the game, they wanted him to sign just about everything – shirts, shoes, balls. Jensen made them ask their parents if it was OK.
So a few weeks later, minutes after Jensen had led Lewis Central to its first boys state soccer championship, sure enough, there was that same group of wide-eyed youngsters surrounding him, asking for an autograph. He knelt down and signed every one.
“I think that’s extremely cool that I could influence them, that they would enjoy watching me and they would think that highly of me,’’ Jensen said.
Others also think highly of Jensen. He’s The Daily Nonpareil’s choice as its Council Bluffs Boys Soccer Player of the Year for the 2019 season.
Jensen has always shown athletic prowess. He was a member of the All-City basketball team last winter. That sport has rivaled his love of soccer at times, especially in middle school, but in the end it inevitably came back to the one he’s spent the majority of his time playing. He will continue as a goalkeeper at the Division I level in Cincinnati, Ohio, at Xavier University, a member of the Big East Conference.
“Soccer definitely just always seems to kind of kick basketball out of the picture every time,’’ he said.
It’s always been a big part of the family. Older sister Brooke was a standout at Lewis Central who went on to play at Iowa Western and Sioux Falls. Younger sister Hope just finished her sophomore year and was on the Titans’ state-qualifying team.
While his mother, Lisa, preferred volleyball, his father, Chris, was a longtime soccer coach at Sporting Omaha FC who also spent a short stint as the Lewis Central girls coach.
“He’s definitely the one that kind of got me into the club soccer side of it at a young age,’’ Jensen said.
He started playing keeper at age 10. Years ago, Jensen remembers going to the turf field at Lewis Central to try to stop Brooke’s shots when she was still playing.
He kept growing, eventually reaching about 6-foot-6 with shoes. He said it was important to get the proper training for the position before he hit that growth spurt.
Driver said while taller keepers often have the range to deflect balls others can’t, it can also be a disadvantage. Not with Jensen.
“I think that’s what makes him special,’’ he said. “Generally taller guys struggle with getting down on the ground on lower shots. But Cole has that ability, and actually he’s really good at it.
“His playmaking ability with his feet, in addition to his spatial awareness in goal, always allow him to be in perfect position.’’
In his final two seasons, Jensen allowed only 16 goals in 41 games. In this year’s state tournament, he blocked two penalty shots in a quarterfinal shootout victory over Storm Lake. He then turned in clean sheets in the semifinals and finals.
The Titan coach said his keeper is deserving of the award for reasons beyond the field of play.
“Outside of Cole’s stats and accolades, what people may not know about him is his leadership ability and character on and off the pitch,’’ Driver said. “Cole’s always encouraging his teammates. He’s very passionate about our program’s success, and he was our vocal leader in the locker room and kind of our field general on the pitch, because he sees everything.’’
A 3.78 student at Lewis Central, Jensen said he’s considering studying sports management or something in the health field in college, but he’s still unsure. He’ll likely be one of four keepers in the Xavier program, and he said if he’s not among the top two entering the season, he’ll likely redshirt. Weighing just 180 pounds, he said he’ll work on adding strength along with speed in the coming years.
As with any championship team, Lewis Central’s run to the title was far more than just Jensen’s ability in goal. The Titans had an ideal blend of defense, efficient midfield play and striking ability.
And on the rare occasion when those areas broke down, they always had a reliable last line of defense.
“We could always count on him,’’ Driver said.
City Players of the Year
2019: Cole Jensen, Lewis Central
2018: Conner James, Lewis Central
2017: Rodrigo Barajas, St. Albert
2016: Rodrigo Barajas, St. Albert
2015: Cole McBride, St. Albert
2014: Cole McBride, St. Albert
2013: Miguel Ramos, Lewis Central
2012: Miguel Ramos, Lewis Central
2011: Steve O’Neill, St. Albert
2010: Erick Estrada, Thomas Jefferson
2009: Erick Estrada, Thomas Jefferson
2008: Cody Sullivan, St. Albert
2007: Riley Landolt, Lewis Central
2006: James Driver, Thomas Jefferson
2005: Derek Townsend, Thomas Jefferson
2004: Kevin Lorkovic, St. Albert
2003: Chris Story, Thomas Jefferson
2002: Brent Lorkovic, St. Albert
2001: Beau Saar, Lewis Central
2000: Brady Spangenberg, Abraham Lincoln