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KINGSTON –- When it comes to pressure, Silver Lake High boys soccer player J.J. Devine does not get fazed on the soccer field.
He proved that during a pair of penalty-kick wins for the Lakers during the Division 1 South Sectionals.
In the first round of the sectionals, Devine stopped all three penalty kicks he faced to push the Lakers past Marshfield. Devine’s heroics continued in the quarterfinals when he stopped two more PKs against Weymouth. Then he switched roles and scored the winning goal in kicks to send the Lakers to the semifinals.
Despite the pressure he’s faced on the field recently, his greatest challenge has come off the field. In January of 2018, Devine’s mother, Dawn, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She passed away a few months later. In August, Devine’s father, John, was diagnosed with the same disease. John is currently in hospice receiving 24-hour care in their home in Halifax.
At the start of the season, doctors gave John just two weeks to live.
“It was hard for me but soccer kind of helped me through it,” said Devine. “It kind of gives me something to play for. I just want to go out and play for them and make them proud.”
When he was on the pitch, his teammates tried to help him escape for a few hours.
“When he was at soccer, it was not something that we talked about just so he did have that escape,” said Silver Lake boys soccer coach Dan Correia. “But then off the field, I think he knew that everyone was there for him, whatever he needed.”
The family was planning a move to Maine before Dawn passed away. J.J. and John followed through on the move and he spent his sophomore year playing for Dexter High School in Maine. He tallied nine goals and nine assists in the field before moving into the goal during Dexter’s playoff run. After his did dad was diagnosed in August, they moved back to Halifax because of easier access to better medical care.
Soccer was an escape for J.J. during the fall, but the one-sport athlete said he also relies on spending time with friends to help him in the offseason.
“Even spending time with my dad helps a lot cause he kind of hides what he is feeling so I am not constantly reminded of it,” said Devine.
The 24-hour caretakers help ease Devine’s mind when he’s away from home.
“It kind of takes the stress away,” said Devine. “When I am at school, I do not have to worry that he is home alone because the nurses are always there.”
In the fall, Devine played almost every minute in net for the Lakers and was an integral piece of Silver Lake’s 14-win campaign.
“He is steady, he is reliable in net and having a good goalkeeper is such a huge advantage and a huge part of having a successful team,” said Correia.
Because of his sickness, Devine’s father was unable to see any of his son’s game this season.
“I showed him the footage from the games,” said Devine. “I am making a highlight of just our playoff games. Hopefully I can show that to him when I finish.”
His performance against Weymouth earned him a spot in the Patriot Ledger Player of the Week voting. He went on to win with over 50 percent of the vote.
“My dad said if I won, he would buy me a Porsche,” said Devine. “I don’t know if it is going to happen, but my parents are definitely proud.”
Correia said that Devine is a great kid off the field and a very well-rounded student.
“He is kind of quiet off the field,” said Correia. “But when he is on the field, especially in those pressure-packed situations, he is very confident and kind of flips the switch.”
J.J. played club soccer for the FC Boston Bolts before Dawn’s diagnosis.
“My mom loved watching me play,” said Devine. “Her and my dad never missed a game and mom took me to every practice.
“It is great having him back,” said Correia. “He showed up at out summer league over the summer and everyone was happy to see him and have him come back to Silver Lake.”
Devine’s playoff heroics on penalty kicks in the playoffs were no surprise to anyone. Correia said they practice PKs a lot during the season. The coach knew he had the mental strength to get the job done.
“It speaks to the fact that he is passionate about the game more than anything,” said Correia. “On the field, both mentally and physically, he is there.”
Correia credits Devine’s instinct in the pressure-filled situations for his success.
“He definitely just has a good instinct,” said Correia. “Once he decides which way he is going, he definitely commits to it, which I think is a big advantage. A lot of goalkeepers are sort of hesitant in that situation.”
Correia also credits his abilities to read the shooters.
Now a junior, J.J. hopes to play college soccer and plans on studying something in business in college.
The Lakers will lose Patriot League Keenan MVP Michael Chun, who helped lead them to a 14-6 season. They will also lose Patriot League All-Stars James Gallagher, Brett Gheifi, Stephen Gallagher, Matt Dole and Zach Sweeney. But J.J. still expects the Lakers to make the playoffs next season.
“Hopefully my dad will get better and be there to watch it,” said Devine of his senior season.
Matt Cunha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @CunhaMatthew.