Josh Mackie is no longer the player that Byron Owen first saw five years back.
The once-timid soccer player has turned into the full-blown talent that has been able to dominate games and frustrate opponents’ best-laid plans. And thanks in part to Mackie busting out of shell, Socastee has visions of another deep postseason run.
The Braves will enter Thursday’s second-round state playoff game with a decent homefield advantage, plenty of experience from this portion of the year, and, maybe most importantly, the goal-scoring leader who a year from now will be playing NCAA Division-I soccer.
“Sometimes, crazy things happen with him,” teammate and fellow Wofford signee John Cetin said earlier this week. “He can score from outside the box. As soon as he gets the ball, I know he’s going to produce for someone or for himself. I feel he’s one of the most important players on the field.”
The numbers show just how effective Mackie has been for the Braves this spring.
In 22 games (he missed one) the senior midfielder finished the regular season with 40 goals and 22 assists. On 12 occasions, he scored at least two goals in a game (twice dropping four), and in nine games, he had at least four combined goals and assists.
Owen calls Mackie’s point total “stupid” — in a this-is-ridiculous sort of way. And while they are high by any stretch of the imagination, Mackie’s career has been building toward this for some time.
As a freshman, he had 10 goals. Then it was 20 as a sophomore and 21 as a junior. In those three seasons, he also had 50 combined assists.
The reason for his scoring jump this year? Addition by subtraction. Former Brave Chris Matlashewski is at Clemson now, and Mackie stepped into an even more demanding role.
“I started him as a freshman. It was just like ‘Come on, man. You have to be confident. You have the possibility of being the man, or being one of the big men here,’” Owen said of those early conversations. “He really blossomed after his first month or so. They were even man-marking him as a freshman. Not that he became cocky, but he became more sure in his abilities. It really started to show and he started producing.”
Ninety-one goals and 72 assists later, and with a possible five games remaining in his prep career, no one doubts that now.
To get to that point, though, Mackie had to learn how to become more assertive, even when he was being asked to do more than most his age. It’s why he believes Owen had a different opinion of him during those initial scouting visits to Mackie’s old club team.
“I was playing up an age group with my club team, and it was definitely that I was playing with older kids,” he said. “They had matured physically and mentally with the game. … I don’t think it came too fast. I enjoy situations like that when I’m younger and I’m in difficult situations.”
Like Matlashewski before him, and Jake Perito before him, Mackie had two older players to lean on for advice when it came to starting for four straight years. They’d tell him to not to fret the little things and that mistakes would happen. But Mackie had to be prepared to bounce back.
Owen saw those adjustments in the form of how opposing teams would guard Mackie as a younger player and could, at times, throw him off his game. Now, it’s a different story.
Where raw talent doesn’t take him, the skills that helped him to a 5.06 grade-point average fill in the blanks.
Together, those traits erased the timidness from on-field personality. If there was any inkling of it left, he had more than enough proof thrown in his face to take care of the rest.
“Three-quarters of the way through the year, Coach Owen pulled me aside and showed me my stats,” Mackie said. “It was kind of shocking.”
Said Owen: “To have 40 [goals] already, it is just pretty fantastic. You would think sometimes that when you’re definitely the man, it could get to your head. He’s just not that type of kid.”