By TOM WILLIAMS
The 2005 Ocean City High School boys soccer team was undefeated – the only one in Cape-Atlantic League history. Those Raiders were 24-0-1, winning a second state championship in three years, a third straight South Jersey title and the championship of the South Jersey Coaches Tournament.
Ryan Scully was all-state and South Jersey Defensive Player of the Year. Pat Tolomeo and Rafael Duarte were both all-state. Jason Dugan and Mike Mousaw were All-CAL. The team, coached by Mike Pellegrino, was loaded with talent.
But the leader was Kyle Evans.
He was a first team All-American, first team all-state and South Jersey Offensive Player of the Year. He had a school record 29 assists that year and graduated with 50 goals and 46 assists for his career, both among the top three in school history.
Evans died last week a short time after his 30th birthday. Some of those who knew him offered these memories.
Kevin Curran, a grad student in occupational therapy at University of the Sciences: “Kyle was one of the rawest talents in soccer I have seen. He was a truly gifted player and was a catalyst in the success of every soccer team he was on. Some of my best memories come from my freshman year, when Kyle co-captained one of the best soccer seasons Ocean City has ever seen. Kyle was a hard-working, ambitious and determined player that was a role model for players around him. Outside of the numerous headlines that he made for his natural abilities on the soccer field, Kyle was a funny and good-hearted guy who was always ready to lend a hand when help was needed. I will always remember the impact that Kyle has had on me as a player, a person and a friend.”
Aaron Bogushefsky, Ocean City’s boys soccer coach: “My fondest memory of Kyle Evans was from possibly the greatest game I have ever coached. In 2005 I was assistant coach to Mike Pellegrino with perhaps the best team to ever wear red and white. We were at Absegami in the pouring rain and down, 2-0, at half. Everyone knew Kyle was the best player on the team but on this day he showed it. Despite the rain and mud Kyle picked his team up almost singlehandedly by scoring two goals and assisting on the other two to earn a dramatic 4-3 win over a very good Absegami team. Kyle was a great player, he understood the game far beyond his peers and I am glad that I had the chance to know and coach him.”
Mike Frankel, sports director of SNJ Today: “I knew Kyle the best when he was a young kid, growing up with my brother, Dan. I remember Kyle as an adventurous, competitive kid, who never minded mixing it up on the field or on the court with kids much older than he was. It was that ‘never back down’ attitude that carried him on to great things on the soccer field at Ocean City, Lehigh, Stockton, and with the Ocean City Barons (Nor’easters). Kyle was incredibly skilled on the field but it was his heart that made the difference between being good and being great.”
Phil Schaffer, Wildwood High School principal: “Kyle and I grew up playing soccer within the Upper Township Travel Soccer Association and into and through OCHS. Kyle was one of the most competitive kids I played with or against. He was one of the best technically sound soccer players to go thru OCHS. His ball control and placement was equally impressive. He was definitely a key player during our South Jersey and state title games. It has been a sad day to hear of his passing at such a young age.”
Mike Pellegrino, former OCHS coach, currently athletics director at Egg Harbor Township: “From the moment Kyle arrived as a freshman at Ocean City he made his presence known. He came in unafraid of anything. He would challenge for every ball, challenge for every position and always challenged everyone’s opinion. Kyle, and that group of players, can claim to be one of the greatest teams in the program’s history with a National top 20 ranking, as well as a state title. Kyle made everyone elevate their game because he was so dangerous with the ball. Every day they would play a one-on-one game trying to break each other down. Kyle would beat you and then smile at you as he went by. His ability to frustrate players was due to his technical ability as well as his ability to get under their skin. His quick witted comments and ball skills kept us, as well as our opponents, on their toes.”
Nick Canderan, employed by Axial, a financial tech company in New York City: “Kyle was one of my closest friends for the past two decades. He was charming, brilliant, witty and a FIERCE competitor. As teammates, you constantly compete with each other in practice but you ALWAYS compete together as brothers come game time. I can tell you with more experience than one could measure that he fit the exact script of ‘you hate playing against him but you love playing with him’. His fierce competitive nature often led to a combative personality on the field but that couldn’t hold a candle to the main reason you’d hate to play against him but love to play with him. Kyle had a unique combination of skill, talent, persistence and intelligence that made him, at times, completely unstoppable on the field.
Kyle’s greatest impact on the local community was his leadership and contribution on the soccer field which inspired me and many others. Perhaps the greatest display of this was in early October 2005 when our senior year team was undefeated and heading to Absegami, a team that had three or four talented players that we called teammates after the high school season was over when Kyle, Ryan Scully, me and many of the top players from South Jersey got together for club soccer. However, up until this point in the season, we had outscored opponents, 49-2, so we may have been riding a little too high for our own good. That, combined with a heavy dose of rain and a rowdy home Absegami crowd, led to an unexpected 2-0 deficit. Eventually, deep into the second half the score was 3-1 in favor of Absegami. Kyle did not falter, he dialed it up and completely took over the field. When I say he took over the field, I literally mean that from our eighteen yard line all the way to their goal, he was everywhere. This was more than 10 years ago now so I don’t remember the exact order of operations but Kyle single handedly brought an admittedly frantic team back into the game scoring two goals to put us back on top for the eventual 4-3 score and the victory. Keep in mind this is a team that eventually sent at least a dozen kids to become collegiate men’s soccer letter winners so there were a lot of personalities and egos on the field. To elevate his game to a level where every single one of us rallied behind him and got the job done was something I will never forget.”
Dr. Chris Lentz, retired Ocean City High School athletics director: “I saw Kyle differently than most. Many found him edgy on and off the field. That trait helped his success in soccer field but I️ found him to be warm and inviting, looking for acceptance. Kyle was brilliant in my science classes – a sharp mind who grasped difficult concepts with ease. He was almost uncomfortable with his intellect. Kyle was a part of a very special cohort of student-athletes and I️ will miss him very much.”
Pat Tolomeo, boys soccer coach at Highland Regional: “My memories with Kyle Evans are countless and include life on and off the field. Kyle and I played on the same club team outside high school, in addition to the Ocean City High School teams. Our Matchfit Academy team was ranked as third in the nation at one point, according to Gotsoccer.com, in addition to being one of the top public school teams in the nation at OCHS. He was my motivation as a player, and we had a great camaraderie on the field. We pushed each other to make one another better players, teammates, and, most importantly, friends. I got to travel the country with Kyle, kicking a ball around, and he will always be the closest teammate I had ever had.
My fondest memory of Kyle was in 2005 when we were on our state championship run. It was the state semis and we were in overtime against Hopewell. Kyle slipped me a ball and I pushed it past the defenders and finished a decent goal to send us to the state final. I was mobbed by teammates and tackled to the ground. But when the crowd cleared and I was able to stand up and breathe, there was Kyle. He had not been on the pile and did not go nuts with the rest of the team. He lingered off to the side and waited for me to emerge. There is video of this, and Kyle and I went away from the team and shared a gigantic bear hug away from everyone. We both had a tear in our eye and had a moment. Kyle and I always shared a special drive our senior year. We had lived in the shadows of OCHS legends like Rich Baker, Adam Sternberger, Donny Hamilton, Chad Severs and Adam Williamson. But none of those guys had won two state titles outright in their tenure in Ocean City nor go undefeated in a season. We had always known that the team our senior year had the ability to do something special. That hug just bottled up everything that we had worked so hard to accomplish – to make history and make our team the most special in Ocean City history. We wanted it for every single guy on that team to live on in those record books we always got at the end of the season. Kyle as a player and captain really reflected everything that team was. He was fluid, a great soccer mind, had a wonderful touch and a chip on his shoulder.”
Kyle Evans was only among us for three decades but in his four years at Ocean City High School, and a few years before and after, he obviously has left behind many great memories.