By MICHAEL KELLY
Ethan Kelly wrapped up his collegiate soccer career at Hamilton College by winning one of the men’s program’s most distinguished honors.
The 22-year-old Niskayuna High School graduate recently collected his college team’s Jacob Aron Shapiro ’05 Memorial Award, an honor that recognizes the team’s fiercest and most spirited competitor.
“It was an emotional award to receive,” said Kelly, now back home in Niskayuna after graduating from Hamilton College following this fall semester.
Shapiro died in an April 2009 car accident. Kelly had gotten the chance to watch him play at Hamilton College, as Kelly’s older brother, Zach, played with him. While he watched those games to see his brother in action, Kelly said Shapiro always drew his attention.
“He was a general out there,” said Kelly, who played the same position as Shapiro, center back.
Hamilton College men’s soccer head coach Perry Nizzi said he looked at Kelly in the same light. Statistics were not Kelly’s forte, but the 2010 Niskayuna graduate brought a lot of intangibles and a healthy amount of toughness to Hamilton’s squad.
“There was no doubt that Ethan, from Day 1 when we stepped on the field at Hamilton College, I don’t want to say he was the enforcer … but he was the guy that was going to be the wall for his team, our tough guy,” Nizzi said.
Kelly played a similar role for his high school team. Jeffrey Ormsbee, Kelly’s coach during his time with the Silver Warriors, had a simple reaction when told the description of the award Kelly had won from Hamilton College.
“Not at all [surprised],” said Ormsbee. “That’s perfect for him.”
Kelly laughed remembering a moment during his recently completed senior collegiate season when he played that role of tough guy. An opposing player had run into Hamilton College’s keeper and Kelly was the first teammate to head over to that opposing player to let him know that was not OK.
“I think that’s something [Shapiro] would have done, as well,” Kelly said.
Sometimes, Kelly said, Nizzi would remind him not to let moments like that distract from his play. But the coach also respected that Kelly was willing to take on that leadership role for the squad, making the former Niskayuna star a captain for both his junior and senior seasons.
“He was the only two-year captain in my 17 years here,” Nizzi said of Kelly.
Kelly finished up his degree in environmental studies this past fall semester and is now back home in Niskayuna. He said he is likely done playing competitive soccer — pick-up games are in his future, he said — and wants to get into advertising. After playing a variety of sports growing up and soccer at the collegiate level, he said it is a little odd to think his days playing competitive sports are complete.
“I’ve always had a ball with me,” he said.
Kelly was the sixth recipient of the Jacob Aron Shapiro ’05 Memorial Award. Nizzi said each of the award winners have been like Shapiro, in that the coach knew filling their void would be difficult when they left the program.
Kelly, Nizzi said, is the latest irreplaceable player for his program.
“You really don’t try to replace these guys,” he said. “Even though they have so much in common, they all did it in their own special way.”