PORT WILLIAMS, NS - They say nobody’s perfect.
But Jacob Shaffelburg is far from deterred.
A former Valley United and Team Nova Scotia soccer player hailing from Port Williams, Shaffelburg has his sights set on eventually going pro.
Charlie Bour, head coach of the Berkshire School team Shaffelburg plays for at a prestigious boarding school in Massachusetts, believes the 18-year-old has what it takes to get there.
“He’s definitely one of our most important team leaders and contributors,” said Bour in a phone interview Aug. 1.
“He wants to get better and better. He has his eyes set on mastery… he just wants to be the best that he can be all the time.”
Shaffelburg is a powerhouse, left-footed forward widely known for his remarkable speed. The standout winger, a New England track and field champion, keeps fans on the edge of their seats as he fiercely pursues loose balls other players are quick to denounce as lost.
“Somehow, he can just snap up opportunities that you just thought were not there,” said Bour.
“When he’s on the ball, you know something could happen.”
Bour can recall a number of awe-inspiring moments when a long pass rolled behind the opposing team’s defensive line and the ball appeared to be destined for the hands of their goaltender – until Shaffelburg got a foot on it just in time.
“He’s one of the fastest players I’ve ever seen, if not the fastest… and being left-footed also adds another element to his game,” said Bour, adding that Shaffelburg may appear timid in conversations off the field but there’s nothing shy about his approach to the game.
“He’s kind of like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde phenomenon in that if you just saw him walking around campus or in the street, and you had a conversation with him, you’d have no idea that he was as good of an athlete as he is, which I think is kind of a special quality to have.”
Shaffelburg is respected for both his steadfast work ethic and attitude, Bour said.
“He just sets a great tone for the rest of the guys. He’s an excellent role model in terms of the way he approaches all aspects of the program.”
The rising star’s potential for a bright future in the sport is undeniable, Bour added.
“I think that he has a professional route ahead of him as long as he remains ambitious and keeps training as hard as he can - and intelligently. I think the most important thing for him is to maintain a good mental balance.”
Shaffelburg is home in Kings County for summer vacation and recently had the opportunity to suit up for the elite under-23 Halifax Wanderers Atlantic Selects team in a friendly exhibition game against a seasoned Fortuna Düsseldorf team from Germany.
“It was probably one of the best moments of my soccer career because, for me, I went away for soccer when I was like 14, so a lot of people around here didn’t really know what I was doing while I was away,” said Shaffelburg.
“Coming back here and playing well in the second half… it was a good feeling since I can finally show them that all of the hard work I’ve been doing in the last four years is paying off.”
The hometown crowd would not be disappointed.
The Wanderers clinched a 3-2 win in the match decided by dot shots, with Shaffelburg recording a clutch goal in regulation and scoring the game-winning penalty kick in front of roughly 4,800 fans watching the high-calibre game.
“At the end, our coach asked us who wants to take a penalty kick and I think I was the first one to put my hand up because I knew that if I want to go to the next level, I had to get used to the nerves and doing things in high-pressure situations,” he said, noting that he’d only played in front of maybe 100 or 200 fans at one time before taking the field for the Wanderers.
“It was a scary moment, but I knew if I want to keep going to the next level that there’s going to be many of these moments.”
A lifelong passion
Shaffelburg comes from what he describes as “a soccer family.” His parents played when they were younger and his older siblings excelled in the sport as well.
“I played out back with my Dad every day when I was younger,” he said.
“I love it still. It’s still my No. 1 sport and I want to keep going with it.”
He spent his developmental years with Valley United and provincial teams at home in Nova Scotia. At 15, he began an illustrious high school soccer career at Berkshire. He’s experienced the thrills of winning a New England Championship and a national title in the United States and seized any opportunity to share the field with high-calibre soccer clubs.
“One thing I’ve been doing all my life is playing up and playing with bigger guys,” he said.
The long list of accolades Shaffelburg has accrued includes recognition as a first-team All-American (2017), Canada Games All-Star (2017) and Gatorade Player of the Year for Massachusetts (2018).
He remembers noting how effective a small team that works well together can be when Team Nova Scotia, the assumed underdogs, forced a match against Ontario into a round of penalty kicks in the Canada Games.
“It was a good experience because I had played with most of those guys on the team for five or six years, so to finally go somewhere on a big stage to compete with them was amazing,” he said.
“Everybody wanted to win so badly, and it was a great atmosphere.”
With a verbal commitment to play for the University of Virginia under his belt, Shaffelburg will return to Berkshire after the summer break determined to win a championship title with his teammates.
“I’ll be going in as a senior in my fourth year there, so hopefully, I’ll be a captain. That’s something I’ve never done before and I want to… lead the team,” he said.
“That place has given me so much.”