Always in motion: Shalom Christian s Brandon Crider has excellent ball skills and a motor that never seems to quit as he and teammate Jeffrey McCracken
Always in motion: Shalom Christian s Brandon Crider has excellent ball skills and a motor that never seems to quit as he and teammate Jeffrey McCracken formed the backbone of the Flames lineup during their careers. (Public Opinion photo illustration/Ryan Blackwell/Markell DeLoatch)
Brandon Crider is a worthy recipient of the Public Opinion Player of the Year award in boys soccer for 2012.

The Shalom Christian senior set a school record with 111 career goals, an area-leading 40 of which came this fall. He's got excellent ball skills, a motor that never seems to quit and has those intangible factors that go into the making of soccer's most prized possession - a true goal scorer.

But even Crider would be the first to tell you that he had plenty of help.

He and teammate Jeffrey McCracken, who is a P.O. First Team selection, have been the backbone of the Flames' lineup since they started on the varsity team as freshmen. And their give-and-go passing and work rate were the main reasons for Shalom's success.

Crider said, "We're been together all these years, starting in middle school. I remember back in eighth grade we had a really good season and Jeffrey had a ton of assists. He gave me really nice passes even then."

Flames coach Jeff Garner said, "I've had some good tandems here, but never one that I had for four years. These two young men work together so well."

It was fitting, then, that when Crider scored the goal that tied the school record (his 107th) and the goal that broke the record, it was McCracken who supplied the assist both times.

"It was nice to get that record," Crider said. "I tied it on Homecoming and we wanted to break it then. When I did get the record we had a good crowd. Jeffrey had the last two passes that tied and broke the record and I was pretty happy for him.

"It was very important for me to have somebody like him to play with. We knew where each other would be on the field and we had a good intuition together for making certain passes."

Most of the time, those passes had to find their way through multiple defenders.

Garner said, "Some teams sent three people on him. But Brandon's got great game intelligence and he knew when to get rid of the ball. Sometimes he'd get a couple of assists early in games, then when they backed off, he'd score, too."

That kind of heavy marking can get old fast.

"As long as you're still getting good opportunities, it's OK," Crider said. "But if the game isn't going well it can be a challenge and it can be frustrating. You have to keep playing your game and use lots of movement. You can't stay in the same place.

"Sometimes coach would split (he and McCracken) up, with one at forward and one at midfield, and then we'd change positions."

Even though he got a lot of extra attention, and plenty of it the physical variety, Crider was able to keep his cool.

Garner said, "Brandon could be physical - he's not afraid to body up to win the ball. He got smacked around a lot, but he's a young man of great character and didn't let it get to him."

The Flames had an excellent season, finishing 17-2 and winning the regular season championship of the Mason-Dixon Christian Conference with a 13-1 record. But the season ended on a downer - a 1-0 defeat to Calvary Christian at Calvary in the MDCC playoff final.

"I was frustrated and disappointed after that one," Crider said. "But we did win the regular season and overall we had a good year."

And now it's on to the next level. Crider is looking seriously at Geneva College as his top college choice.

"Wherever he heads for college, he'll be a great asset," Garner said.

For now, Crider, a three-time P.O. First Team pick in soccer, is trying to pick up another sport.

"I got talked into playing basketball this year," he said. "I was always more into soccer before, but now I can play basketball and not have to miss practices."

He might find that scoring in basketball is a little easier than in soccer.

But maybe not.

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Ed Gotwals can be reached at 262-4755 and egotwals@publicopinionnews.com.