When it came time for Peninsula High senior Keeton Heggerness to decide whether to grind it out with the Seattle Sounders Academy, or play for his hometown high school team his senior season, it wasn’t an easy decision.
On the one hand, he had been with the Sounders Academy since he was a 14-year-old high school freshman. It had given him experiences of travel, playing alongside professional players, top-flight coaching and training, and the pride of wearing the shirt and the prestige that came with it. Walking past players like Clint Dempsey and Nicolas Lodeiro in the parking lot isn’t something that happens at Roy Anderson Field.
But the long daily drives to the Starfire training facility in Tukwila started to take their toll, especially when Heggerness’ playing time with the team dwindled.
“I didn’t feel like I was being treated fairly, as far as playing time,” Heggerness said. “I felt my minutes didn’t match what I should have been getting. … It’s not an easy thing to do. That drive to Tukwila every day — you have some long nights thinking on the car ride, thinking back about how things aren’t working out. … But that’s just how it goes sometimes. I had some experiences there I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world. Scored some goals, had some fun, made some lifelong friendships.”
It wasn’t an easy decision, but after securing a scholarship to play soccer at NCAA Division-II Chaminade University in Honolulu, Hawaii, Hegerness decided to opt out of his Sounders contract and play for Peninsula High his senior season.
All he’s done since then? Lead the team with 11 goals, complementing players like Teyj Menon and Ben Stanford, and leading the Seahawks to a 5-2-1 record, currently sitting in second place in the Class 3A South Sound Conference, behind league-leading crosstown rival Gig Harbor High.
Suffice it to say, Peninsula coach Brad Scandrett is happy with the decision.
“The kid’s ability to be full speed, then change direction with the ball, back to full speed, is unreal,” Scandrett said. “I haven’t seen it. Usually you have to take a couple dribbles, steps to get back to full speed. But he can turn on a dime. He’s super creative, smart, fast, good on the ball. He’s all that things. (Menon) and Stanford are good in different ways. They’re bigger, stronger, hold the ball well. But he holds the ball in spite of his size. He’s just smart, technically. He just knows where to play the ball, knows how to receive the ball under pressure.”
And whether it’s because of his reputation as a Sounders Academy product, or simply his skills, Heggerness tends to draw plenty of defenders when he has the ball.
“You draw those guys, that means someone is open,” Scandrett said. “So one thing I tell him is: Beat one (defender), beat two and get rid of it. You will get it back. For any of the club guys, you’ve got to know that it’s hard to build a rapport and that trust in a short amount of time. … Guys that are really good sometimes think they have to hang onto it.”
Not to say that plan doesn’t always work out. There are times when Heggerness appears trapped, and manages to slip through two, even three defenders. How does that happen?
“His ability to beat a guy surprises me,” Scandrett said. “He’s quick, smart, the decisions he makes at full speed are impressive. He’s fun to watch and have on the team.”
If there was any concern there would be an ego to deal with when Heggerness joined the team this spring, that quickly dissipated.
“I’m not saying, ‘Oh, I was a Sounders player, so I’m better than everyone,’” Heggerness said. “You have to go out there and prove it. There are very good players in this conference. 3A isn’t a joke.”
The opportunity to play in his community, with friends he had played with since middle school, was a hard one to pass up.
“The biggest thing was wanting to enjoy it more, competing, winning, scoring goals,” Heggerness said. “I knew this would be an atmosphere where I could do all of those things. I’ve been playing with these guys since like fifth grade.”
Heggerness, like any high school soccer player, would love to win a state title this spring. But looking at the bigger picture, he wants to be a positive influence for the team’s underclassmen.
“I want to be able to walk away from this with them thinking, ‘That’s a guy I can look up to, on and off the field,’” he said. “Just being a role model.”
For Scandrett, everything has been positive.
“He’s done a great job just jumping in,” Scandrett said. “He knows his role, he’s been a leader. He’s been super respectful. He’s been a joy to have. He’s a great kid.”