Anyone who saw Jack Jewsbury score goals during his high school and collegiate career would have laughed at the idea of the prolific finisher having a decade-plus long career in Major League Soccer as a defender.
But that’s exactly what has developed for the versatile Springfield Kickapoo (’99) and St. Louis University (’99-’02) product.
During his time at Kickapoo Jewsbury gained lots of attention by putting up scoring records for both season (59 his senior year) and career (124) that were among the best in the state.
He was a key part of the SLU offense playing as a forward for the first three years of his time there. It wasn’t until mid-way through his senior year, as the team struggled to score and attack, that he was dropped back into more of an attacking midfielder role. He graduated from SLU tied for 10th all-time on the school’s career scoring list with 101 points.
But a chance encounter during the MLS combine that winter ended up changing the course of Jewsbury’s professional career forever.
When he showed up for the MLS combine, still with an offense-first mind about him, there was a spot on his team for a defensive midfielder, even though he had never played the position he decided to give it a shot.
“My options were to start as a defender and be guaranteed playing time or to take the chance of sitting the bench and waiting to get my time to play.”
The then coaching staff of the Kansas City Wizards were in charge of is combine squad and quickly took notice that Jewsbury had ability to play defense at the next level. “It is funny how it all changed over a month. I went from being a forward to attacking mid, to a holding midfielder so they drafted me in that position.”
The connection and exposure to the Wizards coaches turned out to be a blessing. He was drafted by the Wizards 43rd overall in the draft. Kansas City was as close as you get to Springfield and his hometown. But that didn’t mean much as he still had to earn his spot among the regular players.
“Getting drafted by Kansas City was great but I felt like I was on a trial the whole first year,” he said. Limited playing time saw Jewsbury get into only two games in his rookie season.
“I was able to solidify myself in the second year and looking back on it now that I am in my 11th year, it has been a long and fun ride for sure.”
Looking back on his now long career Jewsbury said he would have never suspected that he could be among the leagues “senior” players while he was growing up and cutting his teeth on the pitches in Springfield.
“I would have never guessed it,” he said. “I think at the time your aspirations are college and then whatever happens from there. You have the goals of one day playing for a living but you never know if that dream will become a reality.”
During his time in Springfield Jewsbury was part of the Titans Soccer Club, but he admits that in reality it wasn’t a “club” but just one team. Looking at the landscape of Springfield soccer now and the number of burgeoning club teams that exists is something Jewsbury takes great pride in.
“I was in that group of guys around my age before club soccer really came about in Springfield,” he said. “The reality is that it is a smaller town and you aren’t going to have as much talent to choose from but it has been pretty neat over the last five-plus years to see the kind of club soccer and talent that is coming out of Springfield. Teams are doing well at state and going on to regionals”
Jewsbury was a part of the now defunct Olympic Development Program which was designed to create a pool of players from the entire country and give them exposure to national team trainers and coaches.
His time in the ODP program eventually led to an invite to play club soccer in St. Louis where he joined the Busch Soccer Club in order to increase the level of competition that he was playing with, and against, on a regular basis. That of course meant a great deal of concessions on him and his family. He credits his parents for making those sacrifices and helping his career develop.
“It was difficult in a sense,” he said. “They (Busch coaching staff) knew I wasn’t going to be there for every training session but I would try to make it once a week and for games. It was a big commitment for me but even more so for my parents. They had to get up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday after they had worked all week just to drive me for a practice for an hour and half and then turn right back around.
It was crucial in my development and helped me along the way,” he added. “There is an outlet for the kids today and that is great because there wasn’t that structure and outlet when I was there.”
Because of his scoring ability Jewsbury was a heavily recruited prospect. He also was coming out of high school at a time when the Missouri State program was among the top in the Missouri Valley Conference and making appearances in the NCAA tournament. Decided where to continue his career was a hard one but ultimately made easy once he visited SLU.
“It was even just St. Louis and Missouri State,” he said. “There were lots of options for me and having that chance to play in my hometown meant a lot. But St. Louis just clicked for me when I went on the visit and it made a lot of sense because it was still close to home. The recruiting process can be a drag and wears on you but I knew SLU was the place for me.”
Jewsbury said he doesn’t stay on top of the current college scene as he would like but does feel that SLU has lost some of its luster by playing the A-10 instead of Conference USA, the league he played in and was once named player of the year in (2000) and was twice named to the All-Conference first team.
“It was a very competitive conference with nationally ranked teams all over it,” he said of the C-USA. “There were a lot of great rivalries that were right in the Midwest as well and I know they lose that with the A-10.”
After a steady run in Kansas City with the Wizards Jewsbury was not eager to leave the team but knew a great opportunity was presenting itself in joining the Portland Timbers in its inaugural season in MLS.
“Playing eight years in Kansas City was ideal for me,” he said. “I was close to friends and family and I loved the area. There were no hard feelings when I left here and it made sense for both sides. It was a big change for me and my family but it has been great.”
Jewsbury and his wife Brittany had one young daughter at the time of his move. Now with their second girl in the fold he admits the hardest part is being away from the family. He admits family isn’t around as much when they lived in Overland Park, but between visits to Portland and then back to Springfield are frequent enough keep the family ties strong.
“The atmosphere from day 1 in March of 2011 has truly been incredible,” he said. “Until you get there and experience our fan base and what Timber’s Army does game in and game out it is amazing and all the players are proud to be part of it.”
Jewsbury is a central figure in that atmosphere. He was named the team’s captain that first season and even though he doesn’t wear the armband this season he remains “club captain” for Portland to signify his role as a leader among the players.
“To be named the first captain of the MLS ear and lead those guys was something very special to me,” he said. “I will always cherish that and will always remember and hopefully something I can do for a few more years.”
Now in his 11th year as a pro Jewsbury is still locked in to the next opponent and getting the most out of his career, but he does admit that he has started to think about what will be in his post-playing future.
“I would love to play as long as I can but you never know,” he said. “You have to be smart about it because you never know if you have one year left or three. But the reality of our sport is that we don’t make enough as players to just retire so you have to start thinking about what is going to be your next career after playing.”
He’s in no rush to make retirement plans though, nor should he be. He’s started six games in the early goings this season and has helped fuel the Timbers to a 3rd place position in the Western Conference table. Eight games into this season Portland has yet to lose a game on the road with three ties and one huge win against Sporting Kansas City.
“We feeling pretty good about ourselves right now,” he said. “We are doing well on the road and we always feel like we have a chance at home with the environment we have there. This should be a good year for us.”
This story is by Kevin Smith, KC Correspondent for SGFsoccer.com and SoccerSTL.net