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Colton Crawford began playing soccer when he was four or five years old, when his parents signed him up for a rec league team in Colorado.

From the very beginning, he remembers, scoring goals was the thing he enjoyed most about the sport. Years later, Crawford has never stopped looking for the net.

“That’s always been my role,” Crawford said. “Goal scoring has always been my thing.”

The Bishop Kelly junior’s prolific offensive play has helped spark the resurgence of the Knights’ boys soccer team. This season, Crawford has 25 goals and five assists, as Bishop Kelly prepares to enter the state tournament for the second straight season.

The Knights (14-2-3) will be the No. 4 seed at the 4A state tournament and open today with a quarterfinal matchup against No. 5 Caldwell at 11 a.m. at Brothers Park in Caldwell.

With Crawford in the lineup, the Knights have confidence that the sky is the limit as they chase their first state title since the Idaho High School Activities Association began sponsoring soccer.

“He’s meant a lot, just having a guy that can go get you goals and can score, can give the team confidence,” said Bishop Kelly coach Jared Vreeland. “Whether we’re down, whether we’re up, when he has the ball, we have a chance to score, whether it’s him or him creating something for somebody else with the attention that he gets from defenders. It’s been nice to have somebody since he came in as a freshman to have that ability.”

Even as the Knights went 2-13-3 during his freshman season, Crawford still managed to find ways to score big goals. In a win against Nampa, Crawford had the game-winner with 11 seconds remaining. He’s had several other game-winners and clutch goals in the three years since, leading Vreeland to have complete trust in him, no matter how little time is left on the clock.

“I don’t know if he’s fully aware of situations, the kid just grinds and plays,” Vreeland said. “He does understand state tournaments and district tournaments and things like that, but any time he gets the ball he wants to score. That’s always been his nature, whether we’re 2-13 or have whatever the record we have now. It’s just what he wants to do.”

As a sophomore, the wins started coming. Bishop Kelly went undefeated in 4A Southern Idaho Conference play during the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season. The Knights qualified for their first state tournament since 2015 and dethroned two-time defending state champion Caldwell for their first district title since 2010.

With nine goals and eight assists, Crawford was named the SIC Player of the Year in what was somewhat of a surprise decision. Crawford beat out Caldwell’s Damian Arguello, who with 28 goals of his own had finished his high school career with 108 goals. Vreeland voted for Arguello. Vreeland said he thought he was the best player in the league last season, but added that the team’s success during the season might have played a role in other coaches voting.

For Crawford, who said he was surprised by the honor, it was just a surreal moment to be able to be in the same conversation as someone he said he looks up to.

“Damian’s two years older than me and you always got to look up to someone like that,” Crawford said. “We’re always going to be playing against each other, but we’re still two Idaho boys who are competing to be the best. He’s someone I look up to because you play against his team and you just expect them to score against you. Being able to live up to another Idaho kid’s expectations is awesome.”

With Crawford’s performance this year, he’ll be a strong candidate to repeat as the conference player of the year. During the regular season he had a goal or assist in 12 of the Knights’ 14 SIC games. He recorded hat tricks in road wins against Columbia and defending state champion Vallivue. He had all four goals for the Knights in a 4-1 win against Vallivue in the district semifinals.

He almost gave Bishop Kelly its second straight district title last Thursday with a late shot on an open net in overtime against Caldwell, which would have gone in if not for a sliding block by Cougars’ defender Nick Caceres.

“After last year’s short season, it wasn’t a fully satisfying season,” Crawford said. “I wanted to make up for everything. We had half a season and I wanted to make up for everything that I missed.”

Adding to the legacy of Bishop Kelly, which was beat by Jerome in the first round of the state playoffs last year, then lost to Caldwell in the consolation championship, would also be a plus.

“My freshman year we didn’t do the best, we won two games,” said Crawford. “Sophomore year was a huge improvement and now going two years in a row undefeated in conference, it’s makes you feel like all the work you put in is starting to pay off. We’ve grown a lot.”

John Wustrow is the assistant sports editor of the Idaho Press. He is a Michigan native and a graduate of Indiana University.

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