Justin Barkow was never going to be Niwot soccer's secret weapon. Everyone the Cougars saw in 2014 were keenly aware that his striking foot was going to be a handful.
Yet as the Cougars went 15-2-1 and enjoyed a solid Class 4A postseason run, it was Barkow's work in the tiniest of seams that kept him simply lethal. Consistently from start to finish, Barkow was the top scoring threat on a top-tier offense, and for his efforts he has been named the 2014 Times-Call boys soccer Player of the Year.
Niwot's teams have always been pretty offensive-minded under head coach Rob Johnson, and this year was no exception as the Cougars racked up 69 goals. With that in mind, it's still pretty difficult to have the stats Barkow totaled this season: 20 goals and 52 points overall.
He and Billy Hoffman, another all-region player this year as a senior, combined often to give opposing teams headaches.
"It was really hard for other teams to decide what to do between those two, and the few times teams decided to focus on Justin, Billy took over," Johnson said. "Justin was a great player for us, and it's not like he had them in bunches against bad teams.
"To get 20 goals in the league we play in, and adding 12 assists, that is a huge accomplishment."
Most of the time, whoever defenders keyed on was the wrong choice.
"Me and Billy, we've been teammates for the past three years and he really took me under his wing," Barkow said. "We have a good bond, and we both know the game. When you know the game like he does, it made it pretty easy to trust him. We were able to find each other a lot."
Barkow's consistency this season was remarkable. He posted at least one point in 15 of the team's games, scored the only goal in a 1-0 game against Skyline, and perhaps had his best game in the second round of the playoffs against a tough Centaurus squad.
Against Ken Ebersole's Warriors, Barkow tallied both NHS goals in a 2-1 victory, which sent the Cougars into the quarterfinals. Both goals came in the run of play, like the majority of his points did this year.
Just a junior, Barkow had some decent numbers in two previous seasons with Niwot. Last year, he scored 16 total points and as a freshman tallied three goals and eight points.
He prepared himself to be the go-to guy this past summer, and he said it felt good to be able to come through for his team. Across all classifications, he was one of 24 players in the state to reach the 20-goal plateau, and his point total was good for 16th.
"I actually did (have those expectations)," Barkow said. "I knew Danny (Witt) was graduating and I was going to be the guy to have to score goals and set other people up, too, when we needed it.
"God made me who I am, and I just tried to play to the best of my abilities."
Niwot came within earshot of an appearance in the semifinals, falling by a 1-0 score to D'Evelyn on penalty kicks. Defensively, the Cougars were one of the best in the state allowing just 18 goals, and that was another reason Barkow enjoyed the run Niwot strung together this year.
"We all worked hard to go far, and I am really proud of the team for what we did," Barkow said. "We had good defenders who trained hard and wanted to be good. They went into tackles hard knowing that we'd get the ball back."
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