This year's Deseret News boys soccer MVPs all shared a common trait they were a dream to coach.
Two of four coaches used the word "dream" to describe their respective MVPs, while the other two coaches called their respective guys "the complete package."
In their own ways, Travis Barton of Brighton, Judd Wray of Bountiful, Austen Stevens of Park City and Ben Cilwick of St. Joseph were all a dream to coach and a dream to watch and as a result have been selected as the 2008 Deseret News MVPs.
TRAVIS BARTON, Brighton: There are flashier players in Class 5A, but there was arguably nobody more valuable in the classification than this senior forward.
Whatever coach Russ Boyer asked him to do whether it was playing up top, in the middle or even in the back Barton just nodded and quietly got the job done better than anybody else could've.
Along with teammate Mike Nielsen, Barton helped the Bengals break through with their first boys soccer state title since 2000. His fantastic play sometimes escaped the untrained eyes of some who watched him, but rest assured that his coach never lost sight of his value.
"I think that the word 'heart' is often overused in sports," said Boyer. "You know it when you see it, and you know what the true definition of heart is when you see Travis on the field ... You can't overstate him."
Barton shined despite dealing with a hamstring problem that lasted for most of the season, as well as a slight concussion he sustained late in the season.
Such was his desire to remain on the field, Boyer sometimes had to do everything but literally drag Barton off the field to convince him to take a few minutes off to rest his injuries.
But once he was finally allowed back on, Barton demonstrated his value time and again.
Barton started the season in the middle, where he played last season, but was moved up top simply because Boyer needed somebody who was good enough to fill that role. Barton played up there for most of the year, though he moved around as needed.
And wherever he was, he used his soccer IQ and ability to do well.
"He does more with fewer touches than anybody I've seen," said Boyer.
Of all the examples to illustrate Barton's immense worth, perhaps his performance against Jordan on the final day of the regular season will suffice.
With the Region 2 championship on the line, Barton sustained a minor concussion early and as you'd expect was forced to sit out while a trainer evaluated whether he could continue.
After agonizingly sitting on the sidelines for 20 minutes, he was allowed back on the field and gave everything like he always did to his teammates. He played well to help Brighton jump out to a 1-0 lead, and with his team clinging to that advantage in the final minutes, Boyer without hesitation called on him to play at sweeper when starter Spencer Burnside received a yellow card.
Brighton held on to win 1-0, and as Barton walked off the field, it might have been easy to forget that the kid had just turned in an MVP-caliber performance with a concussion.
But he had.
"His desire to play is unparalleled," said Boyer.
JUDD WRAY, Bountiful: A second-team All-State midfielder a season ago, much was expected of this senior when the Braves set out to defend their 4A title last June.
Not only did Wray meet those lofty expectations, he exceeded them.
Even as coach Lou Plank shuffled many of his players around in various systems of play in an effort to find a set-up that would work, he essentially left Wray in the same spot smack dab in the middle.
A fantastic ball-winner who has the ability to turn around and start his team's attack, Wray's contribution to Bountiful's season was steady and reliable from start to finish. And in the end, his effort helped lead to a state championship.
"It was not a surprise," Plank said of Wray's season. "I had huge expectations for him, and he did not disappoint."
His smallish frame might have lulled some of his opponents into a false sense of security, but he would quickly show what he was all about when somebody tried to come at him with the ball.
In almost every instance, Wray had dispossessed his opponent before he had time to figure out what had happened.
"He's so valuable because, even with his smaller stature, he put up a very hard-nose screen in front of our flat-back defenders," said Plank.
And once he got the ball, the fun started for those who were watching him. Few things this spring were more entertaining to watch than Wray was when he had the ball at his feet.
"The kid's just a freakin' wizard on the ball," said Plank. "He just has very, very solid skills with the ball."
Rather than point to a specific example of Wray's play this season, perhaps a more effective way to frame his worth is to point out that he was consistently good all year.
Like club teammate Colton Cook, this year's Mr. Soccer, Plank said that Wray plans to forgo the allure of collegiate play for now in order to serve an LDS mission.
AUSTEN STEVENS, Park City: Everybody knows about Stevens' ability to put the ball in the back of the net, and that trait specifically helped the junior striker lead the Miners to the 2008 Class 3A title.
What might have been lost on some, however, was everything else he did.
Stevens had a very high work rate, came into deep positions to get the ball and linked up well with the guys around him. Add it all up, and Stevens became a lethal package for teams to deal with whenever he stepped on the field.
"He has the positioning, and he has the finishing ability," said coach Caro Caro. "Those are incredible skills to have as a striker with the ball at his feet."
All of his hard work often got him into good positions, and when he found himself with just the 'keeper to beat, he didn't disappoint.
Stevens finished the season with 15 goals and created problems for defenses throughout the season.
"He has the killer instinct of a forward," said Caro.
That much was clearly evident to anyone who watched him against Uintah in the semifinals.
Following 80 minutes of frustration for the Miners as they failed to convert any of their chances and saw the game go to overtime, Stevens didn't squander a golden opportunity when it came to him.
Wes Uribe crossed beautifully from the right, and Stevens perfectly swept it home to send Park City to the state title game.
Stevens, along with many of his teammates, will be back next year, and the sky seems to be the limit for the talented striker.
Already, he seems ready for an encore.
"Not only do I have high expectations, he has high expectations for himself," said Caro.
BEN CILWICK, St. Joseph: Waterford midfielder Spencer Linsley set the bar extremely high as far as MVPs are concerned with his fantastic performance in the inaugural season of 2A boys soccer last season, and many frankly wondered if it would be years before another MVP of his caliber came along.
As it turned out, however, it took just 12 months.
Despite dealing with injuries throughout the first half of the season, Cilwick, who played in the same position and even has the same frame as last year's MVP, did his best Spencer Linsley impression from the opening game of 2008 until his team narrowly lost to rival Rowland Hall in the state championship contest.
Simply put, Cilwick went from being an outstanding player as a sophomore to being an MVP as a junior.
And a very good one at that.
"This year," said coach Derek Tate, "he completely blossomed in his game."
Playing in the middle of the park, Cilwick scored 22 times and had a hand in most of St. Joseph's other goals.
The numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Cilwick was so hurt in a preseason game against Hurricane that he stepped into goal because he could barely move and that it took him quite a bit of time to get back to 100 percent after that.
"He's every coach's dream it's what you want," said Tate. "He works so hard, he gives you his heart and soul, he leaves everything on the field and he's as classy as they come."
Arguably the moment that defined Cilwick this year arrived after Rowland Hall scored a golden goal to sink the Jayhawks in the 100th minute of the 2A title game.
Cilwick had scored an equalizing goal in that game, had given everything he had and couldn't have been blamed him for wanting to bury his head in disappointment.
Instead, he raced over to offer congratulations to each of the Rowland Hall players and coaches.
The moment wasn't lost on anyone who saw it.
E-mail: [email protected]