Casey Bourque of Gardiner is the Kennebec Journal Boys Soccer Player of the Year. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

GARDINER — Belief is a powerful thing. If you don’t think so, you’ve never seen Casey Bourque play soccer.

“He really grew up,” Gardiner coach Nick Wallace said. “I believe that, and I know his parents believe it, too. They said to me at one point, ‘You saw something in him that nobody else saw.’ Sometimes that’s all it takes, is for somebody to see something in you before you start to believe it yourself.”

Bourque scored 19 goals and led the Tigers to the the playoffs for the first time in five years, and for his efforts he has been selected as the Kennebec Journal Boys Soccer Player of the Year. Hall-Dale’s Matt Albert and Monmouth’s Gabe Martin were also considered.

Good luck getting Bourque to talk about himself or his accomplishments, though. Press him for any details on what makes him tick, what makes him one of Class B’s premier center midfielders or even a memory that he’ll cherish now that his high school career is over, and Bourque will immediately defer to his teammates.

“I’d like to say I’m a playmaker, even though a lot of times I end up on the end of the play and I’m the one who gets the pass and puts it in the back of the net,” Bourque said. “I don’t know the numbers, but the large majority of our starting 11 have played together since we were five or six years old. That type of chemistry develops when you play together for that long, I guess.”

That’s one of the things that makes him so good. That trait, too, is about belief. Bourque maintained unwavering belief in the players around him, even as they deferred to him time and time again throughout the course of the season.

During the offseason, Bourque would routinely show up at Wallace’s house to grab the bag of practice balls because he was off to lead an impromptu practice session with his teammates.

“Unselfish,” Wallace said when asked how he would describe Bourque. “He puts team first always. He just wants it more than anyone else. He’s super, super smart. He sees what other kids don’t see on the field. He understands ‘If I do this, this will happen three passes later.’ He’s just a phenomenal player.”

Certainly, there’s more to Bourque’s game than just being a good captain, a team leader and scoring goals.

Though he finished with nine assists to go with his 19 goals, Bourque didn’t pad the scoresheet by cheating forward or benefiting from pressing at the top of the arc. He did it by first being defensively responsible, patrolling the midfield to win tackles, gain possession and begin the attack in the other direction.

Bourque was a physical player, but not in a dirty sense. Strong, he was often a target of the opposition’s nastiness — but he took foul after foul and restarted play without a so much as a word of disgust.

“I had always been a quiet kid,” Bourque said. “I knew people looked at me this season. I really wanted to set that example and set the tone that we would play the game the way we needed to play it, no matter what the other teams or the refs were doing.”

His career blossomed as a junior and senior, but Bourque began laying the foundation of what was to come as soon as he got to high school. He scored five goals in a preseason game as a ninth-grader, leading Wallace to believe something special was in the works.

“I tried to come in during preseason of my freshman year with the mentality that I could make a difference on the team,” Bourque said. “Coach always told us, ‘Don’t wait until you’re older.'”

A concussion kept Bourque out of two games early in the season, the first significant injury of his career, keeping him one goal shy of his personal goal of 20. All he did after getting hurt was return and score twice late to lead Gardiner to a win over Maranacook — the first time the Tigers had beaten the Black Bears during his career.

“He just works hard,” Wallace said. “He wants to be better every single day. If he’s not the hardest working player on the field, I don’t know who is.

“Everybody on our team saw how much he wanted it.”

Bourque has applied to MIT, as well as Worcester Polytech Institute.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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