Every team has a player who treats every practice like a game, who is picked out by teammates and coaches as someone who brings a higher level of intensity to the drills and friendly scrimmages.
Usually that player doesn’t fill up box scores with impressive stats, and for the Wisconsin men’s soccer team, sophomore midfielder/defender Blake Succa fits that role perfectly. Well-spoken and friendly off the turf, his mentality transforms once he steps onto the field, whether it be against his own teammates or another team.
With a sturdy build at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Succa brings the physical presence to match his work ethic. Whether playing as a central midfielder, where he has spent the majority of his minutes this year, or a defender, his playing time and role on the field have expanded in his sophomore season.
“It could be a pick-up game in the park, Blake only knows how to play one way, and that’s hard,” head coach John Trask said. “And he brings it all the time — he’s a competitive, competitive kid. Any ball that’s there to be won, his mentality is ‘I’m going to win it,’ it’s not, ‘Well, it’s Tuesday and we’ve got a game tomorrow.’”
After playing in 16 games last season with 14 starts, Succa — like many Wisconsin sophomores on this team — has no shortage of experience on the field. But last year, he played almost entirely as a defender, a position he has since conceded to join the midfield.
As the central midfielder, Succa is often responsible for both breaking up the opponents’ drives and sparking the Badgers’ momentum on the offensive side of the field. One of the more challenging spots on this field, it seems like the perfect spot for one of UW’s most active motivators on the field.
Unsurprisingly, Succa’s all-out mentality on the U-Bay practice fields carries into the games, as he is one of Wisconsin’s key motivators on the field.
“Every game, if we’re down, he’s the one that’s trying to pick us up and trying to get us that next goal,” freshman defender AJ Cochran said. “He just brings a different level of attitude, and it just makes the team perform that much harder and that much tougher.”
A peek at the defensive-minded players’ stat line shows plenty of zeros, except for in one critical stat — minutes. Thus far, the converted defender currently leads the team with 1,372 minutes this year.
Succa has only four shots in 2011, one of them on goal, but the fact that he has seen more playing time than anyone reveals just how valuable he is to Wisconsin. Although he notes that putting a ball in the back of the net is a goal for the season — he scored his first career goal Wednesday night against Milwaukee — his presence as both a defender and a team motivator allow him to make a formidable impact.
As if anything could be more fitting for the quintessential team ‘tough guy,’ Trask credits Succa with creating the oft-overlooked plays that allow other players to collect assists and goals.
“He doesn’t like to get beat, and he’s willing to do a lot of dirty work,” Trask said. “Most of the time sophomores can’t play that role, usually it’s their junior year that they kind of step into that type of role as a dominating defensive midfielder.”
A native of Lewisberry, Pa., Succa said he originally planned on staying close to home and when he heard Wisconsin was looking at him, he told his coach he was interested solely to keep his options open. But after traveling to Madison and spending time with coaches, the sophomore knew he wanted to spend his college career in a Badgers uniform.
Upon his arrival, Succa quickly developed a camaraderie with the other UW players he shares the field with. According to the second-year player, building close relationships with teammates helped ease the transition to the new and unfamiliar environment of Madison.
It could be just those close ties to teammates and their genuine respect for intensity that elevates him to a captain next season. Succa notes the decision for captains isn’t up to him, but welcomes the notion of donning the title next year.
“I would like to [take on a formal leadership role], and that’s kind of why I try and bring as much intensity as I can to every practice,” Succa said. “That would be a goal of mine, to maybe move into more of a leadership position next year or towards the end of this year, but that’s kind of up to the coaches, so we’ll see how that goes.”