CHARLESTON — As fellow students and fans went into surrender cobra poses and gawked when Lincoln’s last-play touchdown stained Charleston’s 2018 homecoming and extended the Trojans' painful skid, the gears in Jordan Socarras’ head began turning.
He left Trojan Hill deflated like everyone else, but that was all secondary. This wonky game led him to think he was missing something. Some force was pulling him toward doing the unthinkable. Right there, in the mania and aftermath of that game and among his friends, the loyal front-row, painted-chest member of the Grateful Red made the decision.
Socarras would join Charleston’s football team for his senior year and walk away from soccer — and not just to try something new. This would be no unannounced waltz into Charleston coach Jerry Payne’s office on Aug. 12 to declare his intentions. He wasn’t there to be the kicker either. Socarras wanted to win, to make an impact, and the work began the moment soccer ended.
“I wasn’t going to play college soccer, so I figured, "Why not go out for football my senior year?'” Socarras said. “I knew we could get wins. I wanted to do what I could to help the team."
Here he is, a year later, one of two senior captains and a rotation player at wide receiver and cornerback for a Charleston team that smashed apart a 19-game losing streak on opening night, avenged that sucker punch from Lincoln and on Friday, forced undefeated Effingham into a six-turnover slopfest, albeit in a 35-14 loss. Socarras earned his captain’s role before he even put on pads. The weight room dedication since last fall, the reputation from soccer, infectious hunger and belief in the team’s direction without evidence made it an easy call.
“He stepped in that role without being asked,” Payne said. “He was pushing guys.”
The decision to give up soccer initially sent shockwaves among friends, family and coaches. A three-year varsity player wasn’t going to do this, right? Surely, he doesn’t think he’s going to win many — or any — games as part of Charleston’s football team. Heck, he hadn’t played football since sixth grade, and it was his secondary sport. He was leaving a team on which he was the second-leading scorer, assist leader and shoo-in to be a team captain. Charleston soccer churns out winning seasons. Football had two straight winless ones. Had he lost his mental faculties? The questions and second-guesses flooded in.
“I told them the same thing I told everyone else,” Socarras said. “I wanted to help the team. I think they knew and saw that I meant it. I wanted the best for this team.”
His plan to switch sports remained his secret at first. He didn’t tell anyone because he didn’t want to invite speculation and questions about the sincerity of the move. He kept the news largely to himself and worked out in Charleston’s weight room with friends on the football team who knew his intentions. He spent most of his transition in that weight room, understanding he needed more strength to get on and stay on the field without getting manhandled.
Positional fit remained off Socarras’ radar. He played running back and safety in JFL, but that was elementary school. And in 2011 and 2012. Throw everything he did there in the trash. He needed to build instincts, understand X’s and O’s at a higher level, re-learn technique.
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All that would come in August, too. The time leading up to it remained dedicated all about showing his future football teammates he was serious about this through pushing himself and others in daily weight training. Socarras said he only added about 5 or 10 pounds in his first nine months, but can now lift double the weight he could at the end of the 2018 soccer season.
“I don’t know what happened, but all my maxes went up by 150 percent or something,” he said.
Eventually, as workouts persisted into the winter and early spring, Charleston soccer coach Josh Garrett noticed Socarras’ and other football players’ daily trek through Charleston’s gym and to the weight room and eventually put the pieces together. The decision was surprising. The attitude and embrace of it was anything but. To Garrett, Socarras was the kid who asked to extend in-season practices by half an hour and was still up for more after 120 minutes.
“Every day he was going to weights,” Garrett said. “We were in the gym for a while for girls soccer, and I’d see him. He’d go ‘hey coach,” and he knew I knew he was playing football. He was in there excited. He really bought into the offseason training stuff.”
Garrett would miss him, of course. He played every midfield spot, forward and striker for the Trojans.
“Some of your most athletic kids are your strikers,” Garrett said. “Just like receiver. It’s a highly athletic position. Cornerback, same thing.”
Socarras has settled into a sub-package role in both of those spots on the football field. He has just one catch, but is becoming a more trusted defender who opponents target less and less. The numbers aren’t the best indicator of his impact, though.
To even be trusted to take on a role after a six-year layoff is a testament to the respect he earned from an offseason lifting and running routes with his fellow receivers and quarterback Nick Cheney. He became so engulfed in it that his parents caught word of his plans before he could officially inform them.
“I was waiting for the perfect moment to tell them,” Socarras said. “Just never came.”
Charleston is still early in its rebuild from a winless program, and these initial stages create a better chance for someone like Socarras to seize a role. But Payne could easily choose to throw an underclassmen in his place and get him more experience for future seasons that begin with loftier goals than this one.
“Hard-nosed determination,” Payne said. “That’s what it is…He’s a big part of our foundation.”