By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

It was mid-October, 2018, when Ocean City took on St. Augustine Prep in the newly formed Cape-Atlantic League Tournament for boys soccer. Nobody had ever heard the name John Lindsay. Some die-hard Red Raiders fans probably were familiar with his older brother, Russell, who helped lead Ocean City to a couple of sectional titles during his run as a goalkeeper a few years prior. 

But John Lindsay was a little known freshman who had just three career goals. 

He nearly equaled that on the biggest stage of his young career, scoring twice to help Ocean City take down the favorite Hermits, 2-1, to win the CAL championship. 

In the years to follow, John Lindsay has done a lot to make a name for himself, first as a quality midfielder and this year — his final campaign in the red-and-white — as one of the top strikers in South Jersey. Heading into the final few games of the regular season Lindsay had posted 23 goals and 11 assists, both tops on the team. As of Oct. 27, Lindsay had 39 career goals and 15 assists, but, more importantly, had led his club to a 45-19-3 record as the only four-year varsity starter coach Aaron Bogushefsky has had during his illustrious 12-year career with the Red Raiders. 

“I think listening to his brother and coming to the games at a young age really helped because he realized how important the season is and the team is. Watching his brother play and go through three years of making it to the South Jersey Group 3 final — and winning it two of those three years — I think really cemented that in mind and he wants that so badly for himself,” Bogushefsky said. “We’ve come up short, two years ago we were there and lost, and he wants that so badly for his team and I think that’s what has fueled him all along. He’s been a competitor ever since he was a freshman. He scored both goals in the CAL final against St. Augustine, and we won that game 2-1. 

“Every year he’s had a little bit different role and this year he’s really taken on that leadership role. He was a captain last year, and this year he’s definitely the voice of our team and the heart and soul of what we do. He’s at the top of his game right now. I love watching him play, he’s one of the best talents I’ve ever had.”

“Watching Russ, I always knew there was a different level of intensity at the high school level and he always told me get bigger, get stronger, get ready to take a hit. I just came in knowing my role and played the part I had to in most games to be able to compete on the varsity level. At first I was nervous but I had a great group of guys around me and they took me under their wing immediately,” said Lindsay, who recently committed to Rowan University to continue his education and soccer career. “I always had to live up to the reputation of my brother, and he always had the reputation of being that guy who could rise to the moment in big games. Just watching him and the way he was able to respond in those moments, I really just took that in and used that to my advantage and implemented that into everything I do. The biggest thing is you need that team camaraderie, you need that brotherhood. You need everyone to be on the same page and you need to all be clicking at the same time, and when you can get that you can be something special.”

Lindsay has been something special since his first day in a Red Raiders uniform, and it’s not difficult to get coach Bogushefsky to talk about his star player. 

“We play a specific way and a lot of guys (on other teams) who have a ton of goals are just turn-and-burn type of guys; John has so many more skills than that. He’s so dynamic on the ball. I remember thinking when I was a senior in high school that I was at the top of my game and nobody could touch me, I knew what I was doing and I was super confident. I look at him and it’s that to a greater degree. He’s fun to watch right now. I’m not going to say he’s untouchable or he’s the best there ever was, but he’s definitely at the top of his game and you can see that confidence show through,” Bogushefsky said. “He is multi-faceted and I can play him in any position. We played Williamstown recently and they have really good defense, so he was having a hard time finding the net. But it was him who caused the play that allowed Jon Leap to score — a junior who had only scored one goal this year prior to that. So, he’s able to facilitate, too. He leads the team in goals but also in assists, so he’s really been a playmaker for us. If I put him anywhere he can get the job done and he can be elite at any position he wants.”

Earning the captain’s band is a big deal in high school soccer, and Lindsay said he doesn’t take that responsibility lightly.

“Coach always tells me I’m that guy everybody looks to out on the field, and to get the pulse of the team. Taking that in, I’ve put pressure on myself to do the best I can every day. And when you do that, you really begin to understand what it takes to become a winner and you want to implement that to your team so that everyone has the same mindset. Getting back to that brotherhood feeling, you want everybody to be working toward the same goal,” Lindsay said. “It’s everything to me, this captain’s band. I’ve dreamt about this since coming in as a freshman, looking up to my brother and him being a captain when he was here, and everything that comes with a captaincy — leadership, how you carry yourself on and off the field, how you are able to talk to you teammates and coaches and bring everyone together. When you have tough games and take losses you have to be able to move on and teach each other valuable lessons.”

One of the toughest things for any high school coach is to get a complete buy-in to what they are selling from their best players. But Bogushefsky said Lindsay has understood what Ocean City soccer is all about since his first day on the pitch four years ago.  

“We get a full buy-in from him. I’ve always said I’d rather take a team of B-minuses who buy in than a team full of A-pluses who don’t. You can win with those kinds of B-minuses. John is an A-plus player — and he buys in. I was a big Larry Bird guy growing up, and that guy was at practice before everybody and he left after everybody, and he led by example. And he had the voice to do it. I look at John and his work ethic is higher than everyone’s and he wants it,” Bogushefsky said. “The thing I love about him is he respects me enough to fall in line (with the program). I’ll tell him what we need to do and he’s like, ‘alright, let’s do it.’ I go to him a lot for the pulse of the team and he always, without hesitation, will buy into everything I’m saying. That makes for a dynamic partnership. He can demand what he wants because he does play at such a high level. He’s respected across the board by friendly opponents and ones who are not so friendly to us. They respect him and they know he’s good.”

What makes Lindsay so good? So much better than most of the other players on the field in any given game? 

“It’s two things. Number one, it’s physicality. He’s been in the gym and working with the program we’ve been giving him and he’s really dedicated himself to that. It shows. He’s not out-matched anywhere. On the other side of it, it’s the leadership abilities he has. He’s not a really lovey-dovey guy, if he’s upset, you’re going to know about it. But because he can perform so well on the greatest of stages he can be demanding of everybody, and everybody falls in line. He’s probably the clearest leader of a team I’ve ever had and it looks like he was made for that spot,” Bogushefsky said. “I relate him to LeBron James a little bit — when he first came into the NBA he was a young guy and everybody was like, ‘who is this guy trying to take my spot?’ But as time goes on he becomes a good member of the team, if not the best, and at the end here he’s the veteran who is saying, ‘this is how it goes, this is why you need to keep your head. We’re not going to win every battle, but we’re going to be in it.’ John really has that kind of voice on the team.”

Lindsay credits Bogushefsky and his staff with taking the raw talents and turning him into the player he is today. 

“These past four years have really been something. Bogy is probably one of the most influential people I’ve had in my life. The way he makes this team gel as a unit and gets us to be better soccer players, and on top of that become better young men, it’s really incredible what this coaching staff does. I couldn’t be happier to wear this captain’s arm band for this team the past two years,” Lindsay said. “He really teaches you everything. He watches soccer every day and he talks to us like we are a professional team. We go out there and we perform like a professional team — we move the ball around, we keep possession, we make other teams really work to get the ball back. The way he implements that style to high school kids is really incredible and it’s something that when you learn how to play the right way, it feels really good. 

“It means a lot (to be able to play in college) and I have to thank my brother, my parents and the coaching staff here at Ocean City. It’s been great the past four years and it’s really opened my eyes up to a new way of playing soccer, and I can use that the next four years at Rowan University.”

So how will Bogushefsky replace one of the best players he’s ever coached next year? Thankfully, he’ll have about 10 months to figure that out. 

“He’s a generational talent that we’ve had,” the coach said. “I’ll be upset when he graduates — not because he scores goals and makes plays, but just his leadership and the buy-in that he brings. I really hope the younger guys are taking notes to see how this guy interacts and leads a team. He doesn’t care if you don’t like him in the moment, but he’s also not a jerk about it. He just wants everything to be right. He has that perfect balance of friendliness and competitiveness.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays