Ahead of his senior season at McDonogh School, Jacob Murrell talked with boys’ soccer coach Brandon Quaranta about what they hoped to accomplish.
Murrell’s junior season had been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was eager to make the most of his final season by winning a MIAA A Conference championship before he headed off to play college soccer at Georgetown University.
He also had some personal goals, too — score a ton of, well, goals.
Quaranta told Murrell he should aim for 20 to 25; hitting that mark would ensure the Eagles would be well-positioned come playoff time and give them a chance to win a championship.
“Coach Q, I want to score 40,” Murrell said.
Three months later, Murrell had surpassed both benchmarks. But McDonogh’s season came to a disappointing end with a 2-1 double-overtime loss to Calvert Hall in the A Conference championship. Murrell scored the lone goal for his team.
Overall, Murrell finished with 41 goals and 20 assists, with seven hat tricks, and was involved in more than 75 percent of McDonogh’s 79 goals. The Eagles finished the season 21-3-0.
In his coach’s eyes, it was the greatest high school soccer season in recent memory. Quaranta compared it to two other prolific McDonogh scorers in the last 20 years: Mike Gamble, who totaled 35 goals and 16 assists in 2011, and Kaiser Chowdhry, who racked up 45 goals and 23 assists in 2000.
“The thing that is most impressive about Jacobs’s year — obviously 41 goals and 20 assists is insane — but he’s done it with a very inexperienced team around him,” said Quaranta, who has been the Eagles’ head coach for seven years and with the program for 17. “He had a young team, an inexperienced team around him and to achieve those kind of numbers with that group just speaks volumes.”
Defense Before Offense
Murrell hasn’t always been an offensive powerhouse.
As a wiry freshman in 2018, Murrell came off the bench to play midfield but didn’t score all season.
The following season, Quaranta needed another center back, so he paired Murrell with senior defender Matt Owusu. He played every minute of every game.
Murrell had gotten a taste of playing defense through middle school. He then began to start at forward for his club team, Pipeline, but he accepted the assignment because it’s what the team needed, he said.
The following spring, Murrell started hearing from the coaching staff at Georgetown. The coaches got to catch his last tournament before the pandemic reached Maryland and shut down all sports in March 2020.
Murrell eventually committed to Georgetown in September, choosing the Hoyas over Maryland, University of Pennsylvania and American.
“When I was talking with them, they really seem to know me as a player,” Murrell said of Georgetown head coach Brian Wiese and his staff. “It just felt like home talking to them. It felt like family. I can’t speak highly enough of the program. Every year they are in the top five and always contending for national championships. It’s really the place I want to be.”
A few weeks later, the high of committing to an elite college program was dulled when Murrell’s junior season was canceled because of the pandemic. Murrell called the experience “crushing.” McDonogh was stacked with seniors who were aiming to win an A Conference title.
“We had a really good team last year that got canceled,” Murrell said. “… It was really frustrating. We had eight seniors, all guys going D-I, who weren’t able to play together. It was quite unfortunate.”
Entering his senior season earlier this year, Murrell was the leader on a team that featured eight players getting their first taste of varsity competition.
Murrell took it upon himself to set the example by arriving early and staying late to do extra drills. Aside from the lofty scoring target he had set for himself, Murrell wanted to make sure he left an impression on the underclassmen who would follow in his footsteps.
“The biggest thing for me is … who can take these young guys, these underclassmen, who have never had MIAA experience, and who can nurture them to show them what they need to be like when they become upperclassmen,” Murrell said. “And whoever does that the best really is going to have the best program in the years to come.”
Throughout the 24-game season, Murrell was rarely, if ever, substituted, his coach said, and because of his talent, he was often getting man-marked and double-teamed.
The constant attention led to some minor injuries that forced Murrell to play through pain while enduring a packed schedule that sometimes saw McDonogh play three games in five days.
But despite the challenges, it seemed like every time the Eagles needed a goal, Murrell would deliver, Quaranta said. He pinpointed two games in particular where Murrell shined.
The first was against Archbishop Curley in early October when McDonogh trailed early before Murrell ripped off four goals in the second half to secure a 5-3 victory.
The second came three weeks later against Gilman School. Murrell scored a hat trick in a 6-2 win. Murrell’s goal-scoring, playmaking and senior leadership helped McDonogh secure the No. 1 seed in the MIAA A Conference playoffs.
He has been named a Boys High School All-American and could be in the running for other state and national awards.
“Anytime we needed a goal, he was there,” Quaranta said. “For me, he is the National Player of the Year.”
Though Murrell’s senior season ended in disappointment, he isn’t taking any time off to reflect.
Murrell has already started training with his club team. Later this month, he will start competing for McDonogh in indoor track followed by outdoor track next spring. His specialties are the mile, and 800- and 400-meter dashes. Interspersed between track meets are weekend club games with Pipeline and weekday weightlifting and running sessions.
The only break Murrell will have is the few weeks next summer between the end of his club season and when he leaves for Georgetown. He admitted he may find some time to go fishing and bow hunting, two of his favorite hobbies.
The opportunity to play soccer for an elite program that is coming off a national title in 2020 is one he doesn’t want to miss, Murrell said.
The No. 3 Hoyas secured a spot in the Elite Eight of the 2021 Men’s NCAA Tournament after crushing Providence 4-1 on Nov. 28. The Hoyas play No. 11 West Virginia on Dec. 4.
“The way I look at it is I’ve got to put my head down and keep working,” Murrell said. “If I’m bumping up to the next level — which in the next year, I will be — I’ll be learning from some of the best guys in the country. I just need to try and take in what they’re showing me.
“Just the fact that I’m on the same field as them, it’s an honor and it’s something that I can’t take lightly.”
Photo Credit: Sofia Perzan