03/13/18 — Prep Soccer --CBA's Skyler Landers readies for another turn abroad

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Prep Soccer --CBA's Skyler Landers readies for another turn abroad

By Justin Hayes
Published in Sports on March 13, 2018 2:51 PM

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C.B. Aycock's Skyler Landers (orange jersey) makes a save versus Southern Wayne on October 13, 2015. The decorated keeper is leaving Pikeville on Wednesday for a 90-day tour of Italy's Bottagisio Sport Center -- home to the lavish ChievoVerona Academy.

He discusses the travel in plain language, dryly, as if readying  for a multi-continent jaunt across six time zones -- solo, no less -- isn't a very big deal.

It's just a quick-hitter to Verona, after all.

But then again, Skyler Landers, goalkeeper par excellence at Charles B. Aycock and dyed-in-the-wool student of the beautiful game, really isn't trying to impress you.

He just wants to work.

So on Wednesday, just as he's done twice before, the junior will trade Pikeville's single stoplight for an extended stay at Italy's Bottagisio Sport Center -- a splashy, sprawling, can-you-believe-it football complex that houses any and all elements of the prestigious ChievoVerona Academy.

Once there, Landers will take the deepest of dives into European conditioning, evaluation, peer workouts and professional training.

And just like before, he very much had to earn the opportunity.  

A Keeper's Life

In theory, a keeper's task is simple enough -- record saves, rinse and repeat -- but any net-minder worth his gloves will tell you it's a bit more complex than that.

On one possession, he may contend with and be forced to control a riotous mob in the box. On another, the setting may be reduced to a good-on-good showdown, with the match likely in the balance.

And Landers, like so many who have dared embrace the role, has a cabinet full of ER charts to prove it.

There is his nose, which has been broken on three occasions, and his left eye socket, which was shattered in four separate places after making a save and absorbing a head butt.

Then, in the fall of 2017, there was an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear, from which he is still rehabbing. 

Victory, it seems, carries a steep physical price.

"A lot of people are scared of the ball when it's coming at you 30 miles an hour," Landers said of his chosen chore. "But you just have to move that part out of your mind... you can't think about the pain, you just have to think about getting it done."

Which he's done in fine style, of course, over three  varsity campaigns in Columbia blue.

Since 2015, Landers has posted 330 saves in 2,189 minutes, which translates into a goals-against average of .804 -- a figure just south of hard-to-fathom.

But those flashy numbers, which have provided him opportunities like the one directly ahead of him, just didn't happen.

Like always, he had to grind it out. 


Ziggy's World

As the old saying goes in Pikeville, champions are formed when the stands are empty -- a notion that No. 15 apparently subscribed to long ago.

Because who, if anyone, would put themselves through repeated weekend training gauntlets helmed by Wake FC guru Ziggy Zigante?

Landers, for one -- and that's all that matters.

Beyond garden variety drills, the pupil credits his goalkeeping whisperer for helping him craft a new brand of toughness that has enhanced his game in more ways than a few.

"I knew the fundamentals," Landers said of his early days with Zigante, who worked with keepers on the United States Men's National Team ahead of the 1994 World Cup. "When I got to him, he taught me what to do, exactly. ... He just makes it a lot tougher than a game."

Which, of all things, involves a trash can.

"So, the big grey trash cans," Landers said with a smile. "He puts me in a sand pit, and I have to stand in the trash can, jump out, make a save, get up and then dive over the trash can."


There is other position-specific work as well, which Landers details in pure football word-economy -- tossing about terms like bursts, sprints, diving and rips -- each designed to promote a functional cache of net-minding skills that work anytime, any place.

As weekend getaways go, it's definitely not ice cream and video games, but that's okay -- kids who keep playing for a month after shredding their knee don't generally favor those things, anyway.

They'd rather be somewhere else -- like in a trash can -- working.

New Normal

For Landers, who speaks fluent yes sir and no sir, this week's trip marks his third abroad in as many seasons.

As a freshman, he toured Italy and as a sophomore, waltzed through a similar program in England.

And by the very time he completes his RDU to Paris to Milan to Verona exchange, the soft-spoken keeper will be an old head around the concept of global travel.

But in his business, it's how one improves, even if it takes 4,469 one-way miles and endless hours to get there.

He's been there before, after all, and knows that one doesn't just get invited back on a whim.

You have to earn it.