Mead coach Matt Stueckle knew he had a special kind of soccer player in then-freshman Nick Hamer the day he posed a question to his older brother, Jason, who was a junior at the time.
“I asked Jason, ‘Who’s better, you or Nick?’ ” Stueckle said.
And in this instance, honesty trumped any kind of sibling rivalry the Hamer brothers might have shared.
“It’s was kind of funny, actually,” said Stueckle, who is in his sixth year as the Panthers head coach. “Jason just automatically said, ‘Oh, Nick’s better than me.’
“And hearing his older brother say that made me think Nick might be the real deal, because Jason was a real good player, himself.”
Three years later, Nick Hamer continues to live up to the candied tout of his older brother.
The Panthers (9-2, 7-1 GSL) are three points ahead of Central Valley (8-1, 6-1) and Ferris (7-4-1, 6-1) atop the league standings.
While Hamer’s numbers – four goals and one assist for nine points – are not overly impressive, he remains Mead’s undisputable leader.
“Even though Nick doesn’t have the stats some of our guys do, he is still my best player,” Stueckle said of his senior midfielder and three-year letterwinner, who is the lone returning player from last year’s all-GSL team. “He doesn’t score a lot of goals, and never has during his career. But everything we do kind of runs through him.
“He’s just a great player, offensively and defensively, and a lot of the goals our team scores is based on how well he’s performing, because he does so many of the little things that help us create chances to score.”
Hamer, who will attend Gonzaga University on a partial athletic scholarship next fall, has started for the Panthers since late in his freshman year and seems to have no problem letting teammates like Jay Janssen (18 points), Gabe Arias (15) and Ben Doggett (13) shoulder the more high-profile scoring chores.
“I like being part of a team that spreads their goals out, rather than just having one select player,” said the 5-foot-8, 145-pounder. “I think that makes for better chemistry, and I like the chemistry we have on this year’s team.”
Still, Hamer understands the magnitude of his role as team leader.
“Yeah, I feel like the team kind of feeds off how I play – like when I’m working hard, the rest of them work hard, too,” he said. “Because I am that senior that has been on the team for four years now, I think they look up to me.”
Hamer comes from a soccer family that includes his younger brother and current teammate Zack, who is a junior midfielder. He’s convinced he has benefitted from having a sibling at his side throughout most of his high school career.
“It helps make practices fun, because you always have the brotherly challenge thing going on – like who’s better on any given day,” Hamer said. “We’re always going 1-on-1 against each other whenever we can, but we always keep the competition lighthearted.”
Stueckle recalls watching Hamer develop as a rookie and eventually work his way into the starting lineup.
“When Nick came in as a freshman, we had a lot of juniors and seniors on the team and it took him some time to adjust to playing with guys who were bigger, stronger and faster,” he said. “But once he adapted to the pace of the game, he started outplaying some seniors, and you could see then that he was going to be something special.”
Just like his older brother said.