WILLIAMSTOWN -- Goalkeepers normally aren't thought of as an offensive weapon on the soccer field.
Mount Greylock's Sean Houston has been changing that this season. His ability to launch punts and goal kicks deep into the opponent's end has allowed his team to quickly turn offensive minded. He constantly hits distances of 60-70 yards while punting the ball.
"It allows us to counter really fast," Greylock forward Nathan Majumder said. "If [the opponent] is up and attacking the goal and Sean catches it, me or whoever is up front knows he can just bomb it. We use our speed to get to it, he allows us to turn it into a foot-race and we can really capitalize."
The senior keeper gets good distance off his goal kicks, as well. Not only can he launch the ball deep into enemy territory, but he can be accurate while doing it. Both allow the Mounties to quickly apply pressure at the other end.
His kicks are the most noticeable, but Houston also has an ability to make quick, sound decisions with the ball. Teams must also account for his ability to throw the ball to an open teammate. The Mounties are a team that rely on control and possession of the ball. Quick and accurate throws allow the team to hang onto the ball rather than risk losing a foot-race.
Coach Blair Dils knows his forwards have the speed to win those foot-races, however. Long, accurate punts and goal kicks are weapons most high school team's aren't used to defending.
"He's got a college-level leg already -- he kind of had it last year, too," Dils said. "He can really stretch the field with the ball and we can really quick-catch teams off of that."
Houston has played most every game in the net for the Mounties since his freshman season in 2009. In that time, the team has recorded 31 shutouts and has accumulated 59 victories. He has allowed just 40 goals since taking over as a freshman, a span covering more than 62 games.
"Coach [Dils] does a great job every year. We always have some good guys coming up through the system," Houston said of the team's success. "This year, more so than others, we have really good camaraderie. I mean our starting team is half sophomores and half seniors, but we're basically friends on and off the field."
Majumder thinks the team's success in the past four years has a lot more to do with Houston than the keeper will take credit for.
"I can almost expect him to save one [on] ones, that's how reliant I am on him," Majumder said. "I think our whole team is that reliant on him. If we didn't have him back there, we'd be a whole different team. I think part of our great record over these past few years is having him back there and not having to worry."
Dils is the only varsity coach for Greylock and has just one assistant who works with the junior varsity team. That means the goalkeepers are often left to work by themselves during practices, while the coaches work with the players at other positions.
"We don't have the luxury of having a third set of eyes to work with the goalies, and the soccer camps are all aware of that," Dils said. "They really train the boys at camps to train themselves. I've kind of relied on guys to do that and to work with the younger [goalies] as well."
During his eighth grade season, Houston was able to study under Thad Finan. Finan -- now the keeper at Williams College -- led the team to a state title in 2008. In addition to working with Finan for a year, Houston has attended several soccer camps himself.
"He was just really skilled," Houston said. "I worked with him everyday that year. I was able to have the confidence from him and coach going into my freshman year knowing I had the skill to play at this level."
Houston has continued that tradition, working with freshman Cal Filson, who will most likely take the reins next season.
He also has been able to act as a coach on the field, pointing out different things that Dils may not be able to see from his vantage point on the sideline. Dils says it's one of the things that makes the senior so good.
His knack for always watching the play and always keeping an eye out for how his team can gain a competitive edge is also how Houston keeps himself in the game. That can be the trickiest part for a goalkeeper. Over the course of a game, a keeper may touch the ball 10-15 times, meaning they can spend a lot of time not in the action.
Staying focused can separate the good keepers from the great.
"The biggest thing for me is talking," Houston said. "Talking to our players on the field and paying attention to things on the field even if I'm not near it. If it's down in the [offensive end] I try to congratulate our guys on good plays and keep an eye on things."
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