By Bill Burt
---- — In fall 2002, Mike Grieco went to little Johnson State College in Johnson, Vt., also known as the “Middle of Nowhere,” 30 miles from the Canadian border for a few reasons — Jay Peak, Smuggler’s Notch and Stowe.
OK, we’re joking, slightly. The small, liberal arts college offered the Andover native the opportunity to be at a small, tight-knit school that offered many outdoor activities, including skiing.
“It also wasn’t that far from home,” said Grieco. “Most of the student body enjoyed outdoor activities. And the fact it was 45 minutes from Jay Peak, Smugglers Notch and Stowe (ski areas) was ideal for me.”
More than a decade later, his outdoors sport of choice, we came to find out, was soccer after he was inducted into the JSC Sports Hall of Fame recently.
Ironically, the former Andover High star didn’t even go out for the team as a freshman despite being recruited to the school to play soccer.
“I sat out my first year because I had been playing soccer my whole life and needed a break,” said Grieco. “I quickly realized how much I missed it and played in my second year at school.”
Nobody was happier than SJC coach, Brian Buczek, who has since retired.
“I first watched Mike play in a tournament in western Massachusetts when he was in high school,” recalled Buczek. “I was looking at another player at the time. I remember it was late in the day and not many people were present. After the second half began it was evident that not only could Mike play but he could score goals. He had two that day.”
As Buczek expected, Grieco made his presence felt immediately. He scored three goals his first season and a school-record 13 goals in 20 games his second season.
Grieco was named a captain his final two seasons, which included five goals his third year and 12 goals his final season. In the end, he stayed five years at SJC primarily because of his love of soccer.
Buczek recalled a few games during Grieco’s senior season that put him in the “Hall of Fame” category, when SJC made a trip to western Massachusetts.
“First, we played at Elms College, who at the time was ranked ahead of us and on a six game winning streak,” said Buczek. “What people didn’t know was that Mike battled a groin injury and only played about 25 percent of the season. We rested Mike in the first half and were dead-locked until the opening minutes of the second when Elms scored.
“We had 30 minutes left in the game and started to play worse,” he added. “With 25 minutes left in the game Elms scored again. Now down 2-0, I asked Mike to warm up. When he went into the game, everything changed for us. Mike scored our first goal on a penalty kick. Then with 10 minutes to play, Mike outran two players to get to a ball and scored to tie it at 2-2. Then in the final minute, as we’re thinking of overtime, Mike breaks free and wins the game with his third goal.”
The next day at Becker College, it was more the same. This time Becker broke a scoreless tie in the first half with a break-away goal with Grieco on the bench, sore from his heroics the day before.
“I asked him to get up and get loose,” recalled Buczek. “I put him in and within 10 minutes he scored again. Becker got another goal to go ahead and Mike scored two more goals to get us back the lead (SJC eventually won 5-2). In back-to-back days, this young man scored six goals, two of them game-winners. In almost 20 years in the college game, I never witnessed someone with the ability to take over a soccer match.”
Grieco stayed an extra semester to get that fourth year of soccer in, which was very fruitful as he was named conference Player of the Year and Student Athlete of the Year at JSC.
“I had a great experience at Johnson State,” said Grieco. “And to end my soccer career, about 19-plus years, the way I did, will always be special.”
Grieco flew home two weeks ago from his new address in Denver, where he is a sales rep for Comcast Business Class. Again, his affinity for skiing played a role in his decision.
“I love Denver, especially with the 300-plus days of sunshine,” said Grieco. “I’m an avid skier and ski at Vail, Breckenridge, A-Basin, Keystone and Beaver Creek.”
Coach Buczek, who not only attended the ceremony at the school to honor Grieco but was his presenter, and several others, said this honor was inevitable.
“Mike is one of my favorite players and I really enjoyed our time together,” said Buczek. “A player like Mike only comes around once or twice in a coach’s life. I am glad that he chose Johnson State College.”
Grieco's soccer resume Andover High varsity (four years) 1998 - Freshman -- 2nd in scoring (8-3, 11 pts) 1999 - Sophomore - 2nd in scoring (14-13, 27 pts) Eastern Mass High School All-Star (Only sophomore to be named statewide) Divi. 1 Eastern Mass All-Stars MVC All-Conference Eagle-Tribune All-Star 2000 - Junior - missed entire season due to back injury 2001 - Senior Co-Captain, tied 1st in scoring (5-7, 12 pts) MVC All-Star Johnson State College 2004 -- Men's Soccer All-North Atlantic Conference First Team 2005 -- Men's Soccer Second Team All-Conference 2006 -- First Team All-Conference Men's Soccer NAC Fall 2006 Player of the Year Men's Soccer Johnson State Student Athlete of the year award 2006