Watch Joe Nerding on the soccer field for even a few minutes and one thing quickly becomes apparent:
This guy is not messing around.
A senior captain for the Franklin boys team, Nerding leads the Grizzly Cubs by example — not just by putting up big numbers, but also through his raging competitive fire.
“Everything he does is intense,” said Franklin coach Tony Harris, who calls Nerding one of the best leaders he’s had in his nine seasons. “He plays that way in practice; he’s one of the most intense dudes in every drill that we run, and he’s been like that for four years.”
Nerding has been known to play through pain and keep going as if nothing were wrong. Injured at some point during each of his first three seasons, the senior forward played with a heavily wrapped hand for part of last year and didn’t slow down a bit.
Leading the Grizzly Cubs to the best season in program history (14-2-2), Nerding totaled 11 goals and 16 assists while earning all-county and all-conference honors. Being hurt was never going to slow him down.
“You’ve just got to keep fighting for the team and for yourself,” Nerding said.
“That’s just kind of how he does it,” Harris added. “Sometimes that’s a scary proposition to be like that, especially as talented as he is, but you don’t want to curb that, either.”
Harris noted that Nerding doesn’t speak up much — but when he does, everyone stops and listens. The words carry far more weight because of how loudly his actions have spoken.
That quiet demeanor is often mistaken for arrogance, but Nerding’s coach calls it something else.
“He’s just a different bird,” Harris explained. “He’s not cocky or arrogant, but yeah, he is? It’s just one of those kinds of deals. (Junior forward) Owen Atkison is very similar. I wouldn’t call them cocky people, but they know that they can play at any level and be successful.”
Nerding’s full-throttle approach has earned him nearly universal respect from teammates, coaches and opponents, and now that he’s entering his final high school season, it would be silly for anyone to expect him to dial it back.
Having raised the bar each year during his career, Nerding and his Franklin teammates have even higher expectations this time around.
“My time as a player’s coming to an end, so I’d like to end up top,” he said. “Maybe win a couple of trophies, Mid-State Conference and end with sectionals, see how far we can go.
“We’ve got a good group of guys. I think we can be deadly.”