Casey Yang is a young man who knows what his goal is as a senior member of the Clinton High School soccer team: win the 2A state championship. The team almost did it last year, losing one game prior to the championship, but Yang, a rising senior, said 2012-13 is the year Clinton High soccer will make history.
Yang has played soccer since kindergarten, either in the recreational league, on a travel team or on Clinton High’s junior varsity and varsity teams.
“I love soccer. It’s always been my favorite sport,” he asserted.
He grew up competing on a travel swim team, too, and was named Sampson County’s MVP swimmer for the past two years, but Yang admitted that soccer is where his heart lies.
“I grew up swimming and I’ve always been on a travel swim team, but soccer is what I’ve always liked the most. I’ve been playing soccer since kindergarten, with the same kids that I play on the high school team with, and it really is a blessing that we can still play together,” he said. “Our team has chemistry.”
That chemistry, plus a lot of skill and heart, took the team to the state playoffs last season.
“We made history by making it to the fourth round for the first time ever. It was a devastating loss, but a groundbreaking game for the school,” Yang stated.
As for this year, the teen believes that if the team has the right attitude, it can win it all.
“I really think our team can make it all the way if we all think we can. No player on our team can have negative thoughts or doubts that we can make it. We may not be the best tactically or the most experienced, but we do have the most heart and the best chemistry, more than any other soccer team in the state. I think that, alone, plus our will to win, is different from the rest of the teams,” he insisted.
Yang is a center midfielder, but he said his dad, Ken, who is his travel team soccer coach, taught him and his teammates how to play every position on the field. “That makes us unique, too,” he added.
Yang said he practices year-round for soccer because when he isn’t playing for the high school, he and his teammates are playing weekend travel ball or indoor soccer tournaments.
“I train in the summer for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. Then when school starts we practice two hours in the afternoon. At the end of that season, I have a two-week break and then I practice for indoor soccer. Then I have another break when I swim for the swim team. After that, I go straight into travel soccer and train every day for about 90 minutes for the weekend games,” he explained.
Practicing has improved his play, but that’s not all of it. “My work ethic and determination make a difference. My dad says if you’re working 10 times out of 10 rather than 8 times out of 10 on the soccer field, then that coach is going to notice you all the time. Whereas if you’re only working eight times, he’ll notice those times you aren’t giving your best,” Yang said.
He doesn‘t contain his practice to just the soccer field either. “My friends and I will play barefoot soccer on the golf course sometimes. Wherever I am, I’m always juggling or kicking a ball around, even inside I’ll use a soft bouncy ball, and that helps with my touch,” he stated.
All that determination and practice played a part in Yang being moved from the junior varsity to a starting position on the varsity team during his sophomore year. That, he said, was an event he would never forget.
Yang said he was captain of the JV team when he agreed to play on both the junior varsity and varsity teams after being asked by Coach Brad Spell.
A few games later, Spell approached him again and gave him the opportunity to be on the varsity team, playing just 15 to 20 minutes of the 80-minute game. Yang agreed.
Then came the Swansboro game. Clinton had never beaten Swansboro in the history of Dark Horse soccer, according to Yang.
“That night against Swansboro, a senior got hurt and left the game, so it gave me a chance to finally play. We had never beaten Swansboro, but that night we went into overtime and beat them 1-0. I earned my starting position that night,” Yang stated proudly.
“It’s such a great memory,” he continued, “because I was able to be a part of that groundbreaking history, where we’ve never beaten them in 20 years of Clinton High soccer. Since then, we’ve beaten them every game. I remember our seniors being in tears of joy after the game.”
Yang said playing soccer has taught him a few things about life, too. “The life lesson my dad lives by is work hard, play hard. As long as you continue to work hard, it will pay off. So I’ve always had this really hard work ethic that even if the coach isn’t looking I’m going to do my best and I think that applies to anything, not just sports,” Yang explained.
He also said being on a team has helped him to be accepting of all people.
“Our soccer team is special in that it is probably the most racially diverse team in the state. So I’ve learned to get along with every type of people and that really applies to other areas in life, too, because you’re going to be meeting other people and it gives you an open mind,” he added.
When Yang is not on the soccer field practicing or playing a game, or in the pool practicing or competing in a meet, he’s still on the soccer field or in the swimming pool.
Yang is a certified lifeguard at the Health and Wellness Center, plus he gives swimming lessons. He is also a certified soccer referee for all three travel divisions. And when he isn’t doing that, he helps his parents look after his grandfather who lives with them.
Yang has refereed soccer since he was in the sixth grade and became a certified ref his freshman year in high school. He said he’s never had any problems with the players or the fans disrespecting him, despite his youth.
“I feel like I get the same respect as the older referees because the players know my father and respect him, and they also know that I have an attitude where I’m friendly, but if I see a flagrant foul then I’m going to be very harsh with it,” he said.
As for the fans, Yang said there are always a few who will yell at the ref, but overall they are respectful, too.
Yang credits his parents with standing behind him in all his endeavors. “They’ve always supported me in anything I do. If I wanted to chose a different pathway they would have supported it,” he asserted.
Athletically, Yang said he looks up to his father, who was the one that signed him up at the recreation league when he was just a little boy.
“When I was younger, my dad signed me up for every sport the local recreation department offered. I tried baseball, football, basketball, and for some reason those coaches just didn’t give me a chance to play to the best of my ability. I would take garden peas and literally try to hit them to make my batting better. I got lessons from my dad’s friends. For basketball, I would spend hours in the gym shooting. But none of those coaches gave me a chance to show off my abilities,” he declared.
So his dad stepped in and volunteered to coach a soccer team for the rec league, despite the fact that his dad knew nothing about soccer and had never played the game. He said his dad worked hard at learning the game by watching videos and asking for help from his friends, Gib Palmer and Jeff Smith, both college soccer players.
“He gave me a chance to play and I enjoyed it. And I got better,” he said with a smile.
Academically, Yang said his mother, Grace Ho, was his chief motivator. “My mom has been there to keep me challenged. We have always been competitive at board games, like Soduko or Scrabble. I’ve grown up playing these games with my mom and I think that’s why my intelligence has become what it has become. With Scrabble I had to learn new words and she’s never gone easy on me. Even when I was younger, she would beat me fair and square. When I got where I could beat her, I knew I was beating her fair and square,” he stated.
Apparently all those games paid off, since Yang is a straight A student and was in the top five of his junior class. He is also enrolled online at the School of Science and Math, along with his regular course work at Clinton High.
He’s received the Latin Class award two years in a row, a Pre-calculus award, a Junior Leadership award, and was a Junior Marshall, plus he lettered in both swimming and soccer.
That’s not to say his mother is not there for him at his soccer games and swim meets. “Both are always at my games,” he said, and added, “She is the one voice I hear when I’m playing. Even when I’m swimming, her’s is the only voice I can hear, and she’s always there taking pictures.”
Besides his parents, Yang said he looks up to his coach Brad Spell; his dad’s friends, Palmer and Smith, who have given him and his dad advice and support along the way; plus Damion Jones, the aquatics director at the Health and Wellness Center, who has given him moral support along the way.