REWIND: BOYS SOCCER
On a visit to Zambia with his family, a 14-year-old Will Felitto witnessed a relentless lion chasing a frantic buffalo herd.
It did not end well for one of the buffaloes.
“Fascinating, that was fascinating,” recalls Felitto, now a New Trier senior. “The lion, with a big mane, going after that herd, was a thrill for me. I have to admit, though … what happened to that buffalo was tough to watch.
“I’d never been a nature lover until I got to travel all over the world. I’ve been fortunate.”
Also fortunate: New Trier’s boys soccer team in 2017. Because the squad featured the 6-foot-2, 180 pound Felitto, a match-changing center-forward with a hungry lion’s mindset each time a center-back — or two — attempted to thwart him.
The third-year varsity booter finished with 15 goals and eight assists for a 19-4 team this past fall and earned Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association (IHSSCA) all-state status.
“A classic center-forward,” classmate Ben Axelrod, a senior center-back for the Trevians in ’17, says of the Williams College-bound Felitto. “Will jumped higher than anybody else [for 50-50 balls], and with that build of his, with his energy and tenacity, he was an absolute beast for us.
“Will loves the game,” Axelrod adds, “and people who watch soccer love to watch Will play soccer.”
A tri-captain (with senior goalkeeper Sam Rutherford and junior midfielder Logan Weaver), Felitto scored NT’s first goal of the 2017 season (in a 3-0 home win against Hersey, his dad Brent’s alma mater) and NT’s last goal (in a 3-2 loss to Evanston in a Class 3A New Trier sectional semifinal). He came up big in one of New Trier’s biggest matches, tallying a pair of goals and assisting on another in NT’s 3-1 defeat of Glenbrook North in the Central Suburban League Championship match on Oct. 4.
The win avenged a 1-0 loss to the Spartans on Sept. 9.
Man of the Match honors went to that “Mane” Event Spectator in Zambia.
“Will — big and tall and strong and athletic when he entered our program — improved tremendously as a soccer player since his sophomore season,” Trevians coach Matt Ravenscraft says of the forward who scored three goals in his sophomore season and three in his junior season. “He wasn’t just a major weapon for us offensively with his technical abilities and burst of speed this season; we used him on defense, depended on him defensively during set pieces. He was lethal in the air off set pieces. Defensive headers, so many defensive headers.
“I can’t tell you how many defensive headers he won for us.”
Following the CSL Championship, Felitto ate dinner at home in Winnetka, reflected and then decided to text a teammate. The teammate had been in and out of the starting lineup for most of the season. Hopeful one day, frustrated the next. Big role one day, reduced role the next. The teammate had played significant minutes and an instrumental role against Glenbrook North, and Felitto felt the teammate deserved some praise.
The gist of Felitto’s text message: Great job today. You played well. Proud of you.
“I found out after the season that Will, without anyone having to tell him, had done that,” Ravenscraft says. “Here’s a guy, after playing the best game of his season, maybe his life, going out of his way to tell a teammate how much he appreciated that teammate’s effort in the same game. Good leaders do that; good people do that.”
A very good day in the life of Will Felitto was October 21, 2017. On that day he — along with the rest of New Trier’s soccer team — found out about his selection to the IHSSCA all-state team in a post-match huddle.
“Not just that,” says the team-first Felitto, who scored a goal in each of the Trevians’ first five contests in 2017 and gets a kick out of ultra-luxury cars — “I’m a car freak,” he admits — almost as much as he does soccer victories. “We won a regional title [6-0, against Lane Tech] on that day, and Logan Weaver announced his verbal commitment to Northwestern on that day.
“Our new guys this year,” the FC United club soccer player adds, “meshed so well with the returners, and all of the returners had high expectations.”
Williams College men’s soccer coaches watched Felitto perform last December at the 2016 Disney Showcase in Kissimmee, Florida. They liked what they saw and invited him to attend a Williams College ID camp in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Future Eph (Purple Cow) Felitto would like nothing more than to help the men’s soccer team accomplish what the Williams College women’s soccer team did on Dec. 2: capture an NCAA Division III national championship.
“Will’s ready, college-ready, with his size and frame and strength,” Ravenscraft says. “I have no doubt he’ll make a significant impact as a part of Williams’ soccer program. And I see him succeeding beyond college, because Will surrounds himself with like-minded people — people who are driven, focused and balanced.”
The face of New Trier boys soccer in 2017 was the Trev who soared straight up after scoring, turned 180 degrees in midair and landed with one of fists pumping. Felitto completed the brief celebration with an emphatic, “Yeahhhh!”
“Will always ran right toward his teammates after scoring,” Axelrod says. “A goal from him was never about him. But here’s what you need to know about Will: Will is a true gentleman. When he’s talking with parents, with his coaches, with his teammates — with anybody, really — he’s mature and respectful. If you’re looking for a leader with qualities you want to represent your team or your organization, you want a leader like Will.”