Jared Nunez’s career on Eau Claire Memorial’s varsity soccer team started much earlier than most of his peers.

David Kite and the Old Abe coaching staff rarely take freshmen for the school’s top unit. Understandably so. Memorial has developed into one of the top programs this side of the state, and typically has more experienced players to slide into spots opened each year by graduations.

But there was something different about Nunez. Kite could sense it. He was physically mature beyond his years, as shown by his quick mile time. It became clear during tryouts Nunez fit right in with the rest of the varsity candidates, so the staff gave him a chance. Their initial inklings proved to be correct.

“Jared came in as a freshman and just made a huge impact immediately,” Kite said. “It’s pretty rare that we do take a freshman, and he started every game he was available.”

Four years later, Nunez has established himself as a lethal offensive threat for Memorial. He’s pulled apart opposing defenses thanks to an understanding of the sport that made him like another coach on the field.

He was a valuable role player for the state-qualifying team as a sophomore, notching a goal in the sectional semifinals against Hudson and an assist in the ticket-punching win against Appleton North. As he grew older he became the focal point of the offense, securing a co-Big Rivers player of the year selection this fall.

And now, his high school career concludes with Leader-Telegram All-Area player of the year honors.

“I’ve done some reflecting,” Nunez said. “It’s always super sad that I’ll never be able to put on that jersey again, but the four years were awesome.”

Nunez was nervous when he first jumped to varsity, as you’d expect from any player at that age. He gives credit to then-seniors Tyler Hanson and Mitch Brenner for helping settle him down through text messages.

In time, he became a confident player who always wanted to be at the center of any high-pressure moment.

“He is 200% in anything that he does in a game,” Kite said. “In practice he’s smart and he uses good judgement, but when he crosses that white line and the whistle starts, he knows no barrier. He’s probably one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever coached, along with Jack Longville.”

Like Longville, the 2017 All-Area player of the year, Nunez brought a swagger and confidence to the Abes. At times that could be detrimental, especially in his younger years. It’s no secret he’s collected some cards from referees after a few too many words.

But as he became a varsity veteran Nunez was able to rein in that side of his game, channel his desire to be the best player on the pitch at all times. As Kite noted, that can be an incredibly powerful perspective to have, and Nunez had the talent to back it up.

“His ball mastery is probably one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Kite said. “From going to a stationary position to a five-to-10 yard sprint, he’s probably one of the quickest kids I’ve ever coached in a short distance. ... When he gets the ball at his feet and he looks up and he sees one defender here and one defender there and one defender there, he’s already breaking space down. Not only how can I get past this first guy, but how can I get past all three?”

A book was key to Nunez’s on-field maturation. His brother recommended Tim S. Grover’s “Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable,” a comprehensive dive into what it takes to mentally and physically succeed written by the former trainer of Kobe Bryant. Nunez read it during the height of the pandemic, helping motivate him to get in work while the rest of the world shut down.

He was stellar in his return to high school play during the shortened alternative period the Abes played in last spring, then notched 10 goals and 13 assists this fall.

“That book changed my whole mindset,” Nunez said. “It talks about perseverance, mental health and just the desire to win. After that I hated losing. It doesn’t matter what it was, when it was. Even in practice, I’d get on the guys because I hated losing and I always wanted practice to feel like games.”

Some of the most painful losses he endured came when he was unable to take the field. An injury kept him out of Memorial’s first round playoff game against Stevens Point last spring, a 2-1 upset in favor of the Panthers. This fall it happened again. He went to take a shot in the regional finals against Superior but ended up swinging his leg into a Spartan defender instead of the ball. That led to an ankle sprain that required him to wear a boot until last week.

He was forced to the sideline for the highly anticipated sectional semifinal matchup with Hudson. The Abes played the Raiders very well in his absence but still fell 1-0. Hudson went on to the Division 1 state championship game.

“Senior year, that’s the one that hit me the deepest,” Nunez said. “I knew it was my last year playing. I wanted to give everything for my team. I felt like I did, but come postseason I wish I could have done more. I was helping them on the sideline against Hudson and stuff, still being a leader, but was honestly sad I couldn’t contribute.”

His soccer career in Eau Claire may not be over. He verbally committed to UW-Eau Claire, but remains open to Division I or II opportunities if they come during his upcoming club showcases.

When he looks back on his time at Memorial, its the relationships he’s built that stand out the most.

“Since my freshman year, everyone has just brought me in like a brother,” Nunez said.