Hector Marinaro will forever be the Northeastern Ohio football icon | Reviews | Sports

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As long as there is talk of football in Northeast Ohio, Hector Marinaro will always be at the forefront.

The 56-year-old’s legacy as a football icon in these regions is intact. In May, the Toronto native stepped down as head coach of John Carroll’s men’s soccer team after 15 years of making the program a national powerhouse.

He left the Blue Streaks in good hands for longtime assistant Dejan Mladenovic, who was recently named Marinaro’s replacement. In JCU’s shortened spring season due to COVID-19, he was 10-0 and ranked as the nation’s No.1 team in Division III.

Next season could be even better as the Blue Streaks return all of their starting lineup for the fall 2021 season.

For Marinaro, however, it’s time to move on to the next chapter. He says the decision to leave his post as JCU coach was not a “retirement”. Marinaro freely admits that the soccer bug caught him a long time ago when he was young in Toronto.

“I plan to stay in the game in some capacity,” Marinaro said.

What a career it has been, but in Toronto, where hockey is heavy, a few breaks here or there could have meant a different career path.

“Hockey was my first love,” said Marinaro. “I grew up dreaming of playing for the Maple Leafs.

There was a catch. At the age of 18, Marinaro caught the eye of Cleveland Force coach Timo Liekoski, who noticed him as a member of the Canadian Under-18 team that won a national championship. Liekoski gave Marinaro a try for the Force.

“I was 18 and 5 feet 7 inches, 135 pounds,” Marinaro said, laughing.

Many might think Marinaro was a top soccer player in his youth, but he was not.

“My first days of play, I was a defender, a central defender,” he said. “When I signed with the Force, I was as a defender.”

He played sparingly that first season (five games), but immediately fell in love with the indoor game because the team drew big crowds to old Richfield Coliseum and working alongside the boards reminded him of hockey days.

“I didn’t play a lot that first season, and I sat and watched the stands like the rest of the fans,” Marinaro said. “I liked everything about it. I really fell in love with the indoor game.

In 1986, Marinaro left the Force to play for the Minnesota Strikers, returned home to play for the Toronto Blizzard Outdoor League and a one-year stint with the Los Angeles Lazers. In 1989, he was fortunate enough to return to Cleveland and play for the renamed Crunch team.

“I told my agent, ‘Do whatever it takes to get me back to Cleveland,'” said Marinaro, who owns a home in Brunswick with his family. “I just fell in love with Cleveland.”

Upon his return he became a Crunch but he played like a football force. From 1989 to 2002, Marinaro played 448 games, scored 1,003 goals and led Cleveland to NPSL titles in 1994, 1996 and 1999.

The 1994 title is the one Marinaro cherishes the most. In Game 4 of the NPSL Finals on April 26, 1994, he scored the deciding overtime goal against the St. Louis ambush.

“I played professional soccer for 10 years and never won a championship,” Marinaro said. “I really wanted a championship for myself, but then you think of Cleveland. It wasn’t the World Series, the Super Bowl, or an NBA championship, but it was for us.

Eventually, the franchise was renamed Force again, and Marinaro ended his playing days with the team in 2004. His accomplishments were impressive: 1,223 goals, 702 assists, 1,935 points in just 685 games and a record breaking record. of seven NPSL MVP awards.

Two years later, with the help of former professional teammate and former Cleveland State men’s football coach Ali Kazemaini, Marinaro landed the JCU men’s position.

In 15 seasons at JCU, his teams were 185-82-30, won a combined 10 Ohio Athletic Conference tournament and regular season championships, and competed in five NCAA D-III tournaments.

Another highlight for Marinaro was coaching his son Jesse, who played at JCU from 2014 to 2017 and went on to become an All-America first-team selection as a senior.

At 56, Marinaro doesn’t have much to accomplish in soccer. But that doesn’t mean he was done right away. The sequel is still pending, but looking back on a historic career only brings back positive memories – most with northeast Ohio as a backdrop.

“My parents always made me think of treating people the way you wanted to be treated,” he said. “This is how I was. I was always approachable and appreciated the fans who spent their hard earned money to watch me play. It was the same with John Carroll. These parents paid the school fees and entrusted their sons to me.

“As a professional I’m proud of what we’ve done with Crunch. I had a dream of a football career, and it came true, but I never would have believed it as a teenager, not at all. But here I am, 56 years old with two children. I have led an enchanted life.

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