UPDATE: Burlingame defeated Los Altos 2-1 on Saturday morning in a Central Coast Section Division II quarterfinal. Stewart Farley set up George Markalakis for the first goal in the 11th minute.
Stewart Farley doesn’t throw a 90 mph slider. He isn’t growing a beard, and he’s doesn’t pace around the field with an angry scowl.
But when his Burlingame High boys soccer team needs to protect a lead, more often than not, Panthers coach Mike Sharabi summons the versatile senior from his forward position to play sweeper – a move that’s had the same effect on preserving leads as the San Francisco Giants’ enigmatic closer does.
“Coach (Sharabi) calls it ‘closing the door,’” Farley said.
And ever since Sharabi came up with the novel strategy, Farley has been slamming doors shut with merciless efficiency.
The move figured in Burlingame winning a share of its first Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division title since 2007. The Panthers (15-3-2) also earned the No. 1 seed in the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs, and they meet Los Altos in a quarterfinal match today at 10 a.m. at Gunn High in Palo Alto.
“He’s a great athlete, and he’s pretty much the most versatile player in the league,” Sharabi said of Farley.
Farley showcased his versatility in the Panthers’ 4-1 league-clinching victory over Terra Nova on Feb. 16, scoring the game’s first goal in the seventh minute, and playing a second half of shut-down defense to preserve the win.
Farley, who’s been starting at forward and finishing at sweeper all season, estimates he’s split time equally between the two positions.
His presence in the backfield impacts the psychology of a game. With Farley at sweeper, opponents have scored just one goal on the Panthers.
Like a Brian Wilson?
“That’s who I thought of,” Farley said, “but you can’t really cross sports.”
Farley did however cross sports before he came to Burlingame, playing both basketball and soccer through middle school. He picked soccer because he thought he was better at it, but said the decision was among the most difficult ones he’s ever made.
With his prep career winding down, he’s considering his collegiate options, but hasn’t settled on a college. He’s been recruited by several small colleges and JC’s, including Clark University (Worcester, Mass.), but he said academics come first.
Farley had a 4.6 GPA last semester and wants to major in engineering. He hopes to attend Northwestern and walk on the Division I team.
Among his career highlights was winning the Bay title this year, and scoring on a miracle 60-yard shot sophomore year in the last minute of a frosh-soph game against Serra when his team trailed 1-0.
Farley started playing forward last year after playing defense most of his life. His athleticism has served him well all over the field.
“I rely a lot on being fast more than being really good with the ball,” Farley said.
But Sharabi believes Farley’s greatest asset to the Panthers has been his leadership, a role the coach said can’t be underestimated on a team that returned just three starters.
“He’s got that leadership quality that a lot of young men don’t have, and it’s something that has to be recognized,” Sharabi said. “It’s meant the world to us.”