Jackson McPhedran never imagined he’d end up a center back, and his head coach isn’t surprised about that revelation. In fact, he expected it.

“I don’t think it’s something he wanted to do,” Maranacook soccer coach Don Beckwith said. “But when you go to him and say, ‘This has to be done,’ he’s about the team. He’s about us.”

McPhedran anchored a back four that conceded only six goals and won its third Class C state championship in the last five seasons. For his efforts, the Black Bear senior is the Kennebec Journal Boys Soccer Player of the Year.

“I never had any intentions or thoughts that I’d play defense some day,” McPhedran said. “When I was younger, I loved midfield and being able to distribute the ball from there. My freshman year, I was getting some time at the outside defensive spots and it just kind of went from there.”

It went well, too.

This season, McPhedran scored six goals — negating the six the team allowed. That was part of Beckwith’s thinking from the beginning, something he’s done with a number of talented players in his program over the years.

“We’ve talked about it before, but the defense is the bones of what we do. He’s the bones,” Beckwith said. “If I had Jackie at midfield he would have scored 20 goals, but I put him back in the back because I thought he would stop 20 or 25 goals. I thought it outweighed it. I wanted to make sure we were good back there.”

Maranacook’s philosophy on defending is decidedly old school. Where zonal marking has taken on added importance at all levels of the game, the Black Bears still emphasize man-marking and their tenacity in that regard pays dividends. Only once this season did Maranacook concede more than a goal in any game, and that game in a 3-0 loss to eventual Class A state champion Lewiston.

And that pressure on the ball — a bit of ‘gegenpressing’ popular in German soccer — is where a player like McPhedran shines. With every player on the pitch pressuring both on and off the ball, with opposing players marked at all points once possession is lost, a high defensive line allows a center back like McPhedran to have more influence on the counter-attack.

That’s the role of a center back in the Maranacook system which allowed McPhedran to flourish to the point where he was named the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference’s player of the year.

“A lot of teams play zone defense but for us, it’s that we’re always on someone and not letting anyone be free,” McPhedran. “When you (mark zonally) against good teams, eventually that just breaks down. It’s important to make the offense work back. If you sit back, they’re not really having to work. But if you can man-mark and pressure the ball, it tires them out. It’s the whole concept of getting up, everyone up together as one, that’s another important part of it. The offense you’re playing against has to work.”

McPhedran relished the idea of recording shutouts for the Black Bears, something that he ended up enjoying as much as — if not more — than scoring goals. His partner in the middle of the Maranacook defense, senior Bryan Riley, once noted that if he can’t score goals than he’s going to celebrate not allowing them into his own net.

“I completely agree with Bryan, 100 percent,” McPhedran said. “You don’t think of players in the back scoring goals — that’s what midfielders and attackers are for — but your other teammates rely on us to not allow any, because they know we’re capable of it. It’s really something to be proud of. What other teams can say that? If I was those other teams, knowing that we hadn’t given up many goals would fuel me. It was a very big thing for us.”

Something that, over the years, McPhedran grew to love. And Beckwith loved having him there.

“He’s a hell of a player, he really is,” Beckwith said. “And he’s just as good of a person. His teammates respect the hell out of him.

“It’s built on trust. He’s got to be the other coach on the field. He really has to be an extension of me. I expected all the time out of him to be special, and he knows that.”

And, even if he never thought he’d grow up to be a center back, McPhedran realized that — after hoisting the second Gold Ball of his career after beating Fort Kent 1-0 in the state final — it was exactly where he wanted to be. Right in the center of it all.

“We are a fiercely defensive team, where you can’t let anyone have space around you,” McPhedran said. “I was constantly, constantly making sure we’re organized and not floating around. It was nice to be able to have a handle on that.

“I’ve gotten so used to it that I’ve been able to communicate with others, look up the field, see what’s going on, especially with the team we’ve had the last two years. It’s the best place I’d want to be — with other great players all around me.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC