By Paul Livengood
When Bryce Stratton first stepped foot on campus at Liberty Hill High School, the freshman stood 4-foot-11 and weighed 80 pounds soaking wet.
That isn’t the same person Panther fans see on the pitch today. His transformation is one you’d have to see to believe.
“I didn’t feel much of a difference until I started seeing pictures and videos of me playing,” Stratton said. “I picked up speed with how tall I was getting and muscle definition. Skills kind of came with it. I got faster as I said before. Other than that, it didn’t change much.”
From the beginning of his freshman year to the end of his sophomore year, Stratton grew over half a foot. The young man shot to 5-foot-5 in that timespan, and now, as a junior, stands 5-foot-7 with more muscle and speed than he possessed before.
Along with his physical growth came a growing role with the Panthers. As a freshman, Stratton did make the varsity squad, but watched his playing time squander as the season progressed and Liberty Hill made its state championship run in the program’s inaugural season.
There were 13 seniors on the squad at the time, so the 4-foot-11 freshman mainly contributed to the team’s success in practice and from the sideline. Stratton’s role on the team was initially established on the outside, and has since been moved inward.
“I’m able to play a lot of positions,” he said. “I really don’t think I’m the best at all of them, but I feel like my natural position is left back and then (the position) I like playing the most is midfield, which I’m playing right now. The last two years, the coaches had me out on the wing running a lot. I guess this year would be my highlight year.”
The junior is having himself a highlight season, indeed. In his new role, Stratton has scored goals in three consecutive games against Leander Glenn, Burnet and Wimberley. The tally would be four, had his header off a free kick in the first half against Leander Glenn counted. The goal was disallowed due to an offside call.
Nevertheless, Stratton’s goal against Leander Glenn changed the momentum of the game. Thirty seconds into the second half, down 2-1, Liberty Hill was set up for a corner kick. Junior forward Izaac Zausch sent the ball into the box and found Colton Walter, who rifled a shot at the Grizzlies’ goalie, and Stratton said he knew he wouldn’t be able to corral the shot.
“The keeper wasn’t catching the ball as much so I ran up with them, and then (Glenn goalkeeper) missed it, and I kicked it in,” Stratton said. “That was an easy goal.”
Despite all the goals he’s scored recently, Stratton says his best performance to date was in a game where he didn’t score at all.
“In the second half, we were down 3-0, and we came back in eight minutes to score four goals,” Stratton said. “That was really cool and I had two assists. We scored a free kick, so that was pretty exciting for me because I helped out the team a lot.”
It’s safe to say Stratton’s new position and role is working out for him, and he is having fun with it.
“I kind of like going into something new and experiencing something different,” Stratton said. “I like changing, so it was easy for me to adapt.”
In order to take his game to the next level, Stratton knows he needs his game to improve. To play collegiately, improving his finishing ability and foot speed are among his top priorities.
“Finishing is very key,” Stratton said. “I wasn’t that good at finishing before, and I’m still struggling with it here and there. Speed. Workout more. I want to play in college, so it’s hitting me pretty hard that there is a lot that I have to do.”
Stratton hasn’t committed to a college yet, but expressed that he’d be interested in playing Division-II college ball or NAIA. Part of his draw to NAIA is that their rules for foreign exchange students are a bit more lax than the NCAA’s, and Stratton says he would be interested to play against some foreign players to compare playing styles and learn from their various soccer backgrounds.
If the junior keeps up his production, he will likely see some college offers roll through. Stratton is second on the team in points (16) and assists (4), and is tied for first in goals (6).