Tony Judice is preparing for what could be the sharpest critique of his performances with the New Orleans Jesters.
Judice expects many of the same kids he teaches soccer at St. Paul’s and the Covington Youth Soccer Association to follow his movements this season at Pan American Stadium, making sure he heeds his own message: compete with a high work rate and at a high level.
Their next opportunity to do so is Saturday night as the Jesters open their National Premier Soccer League schedule with a 7 p.m. match against the Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves.
“I know they’re going to put me under a microscope, for sure,” said Judice, a 29-year-old who played at Covington High School and is now in his fifth season with the Jesters. “But I’m expecting that. I’m just going to go out there and do the right things. Try to lead by example, do the right things and play as a teammate, because that’s the main thing: You can’t do this on your own.”
On the North Shore, his task is to mold young talent, develop their technical ability, before they reach high school soccer. He also plans to host two soccer summer camps.
Judice, who is playing right wing for the Jesters, prepped at Covington before leaving for Tyler Junior College (Texas) and Grand Canyon University where he earned All-Pacific West Conference honors.
Since college, he’s played for the New Orleans Shell Shockers, the Baton Rouge Capitals (2007-09) and the Jesters (2010-present). Judice is in his first season coaching St. Paul’s eighth-graders. The varsity team won this season’s Class 5A boys soccer title.
Coaching, Judice said, has helped him transform into a better soccer player. The repetitive message of fundamentals has made him more conscious of his own decisions on the field.
“Learning how to coach properly has reinforced his game,” Jesters coach Kenny Farrell said. “It’s made sure he understands certain principles and thinks about decisions he makes.”
It showed during last Saturday’s 9-1 exhibition win against the Houston Hurricanes. Judice came off the bench to score twice, matching his goal output for 2013.
“This year, every opportunity I get, I’m going to do my best for my team,” he said. “Get in position where I can set a guy up or put a ball in the back of a net. I’m at my prime, and my confidence is way up there.”
He will have to if he wants to remain a starter. Harrell wants competition at ring wing between Judice and Kier Hannity, one of the team’s newcomers.
“I told him, ‘You just need to know that somebody wants your spot,’ ” Farrell said. ‘You’re a coach now. You know how it works.’ ”
Consider it another coaching lesson.