John LaRocca approaches each and every day with a vision that’s only clear to him. Tucked in the back of Frederick Community College’s campus is LaRocca’s office, a 100 by 60 yard grass field, which displays his prized student-athletes.
In his first year at the helm, LaRocca has etched a laborious blueprint primed to steer the Cougars men’s soccer program to new heights, and earning recognition from athletic director Rodney Bennett.
“It’s like the old American way, let’s roll our sleeves up and get to work,” Bennett said. “John LaRocca is a tireless worker, and he wants to constantly strive to bring in good people, good students, and good soccer players.”
LaRocca, 26, hails from Damascus and graduated from McDaniel College in 2013, where he started on a nationally renowned Division III soccer team for three years. He succeeds Rich Roby, who stepped down this past January. Roby compiled a 24-24 record in three seasons at FCC.
Roby’s resigning didn’t catch LaRocca by surprise, however. When he landed an assistant coaching job in 2014, Roby told LaRocca he was on the back-nine of his coaching career, and the keys would be handed to him once it was time.
“(Roby) sold it to me as I can help these kids get into a college,” LaRocca said. “That’s what really drove me to get here.”
LaRocca’s past coaching experience also includes a stint at Northwood High, where he served as the junior varsity head coach. Since being named the men’s soccer coach on February 23, LaRocca has instilled a blue-collar culture that has attracted some of the area’s top footballers.
As of Sept. 28, the Cougars sit atop the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference with a 7-1 conference record.
“We want to get all these guys to four year schools,” LaRocca said. “If I’m not doing my job and getting better every day, they’re not going to move on. That’s what keeps me going.”
Out of the 26 players on LaRocca’s roster, 18 are either from Frederick or Montgomery County, adding to the local value sported at FCC.
“The number one thing that stands out to me is numbers,” Bennett said. “The numbers are extremely high with the amount of student-athletes who like to play soccer here. And the commitment of practices, conditioning in the offseason is what I notice … that’s a direct reflection from the head coach.”
One of LaRocca’s prized pieces in his first recruiting class is freshman striker, Maycol Nunez, a former Washington Post All-Met Player of the Year. Nunez, a graduate of Washington Lee High (Va.), originally had plans to play Division I soccer at the University of Massachusetts. At the last minute, Nunez decided to attend a local community college and save money instead, and the fall back plan was an easy decision for the freshman striker.
“Soccer is his life,” Nunez said of LaRocca. “That’s how I feel. That’s how everyone feels. That motivates us and makes us hungry.”
Before Nunez became a student at FCC, LaRocca sent him a long, encouraging message expressing gratitude towards the elite striker. LaRocca vowed he would get Nunez into Division 1 shape and push him to reach his full potential.
“My first thought was, he really cares about his players,” said Nunez, who scored four goals in FCC’s home-opening win against CCBC Catonsville on Sept. 13. “He gives me the best chance to get back (to the Division 1 level).”
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, LaRocca is a sharp and seasoned individual for his age. He’s played every position but goalie in his soccer career, and has experienced every role, from being the star to coming off the bench.
“You can see by his passion and how much he wants this, and how much his work ethic is,” Bennett said. “You need to be that at the collegiate level, because it’s a serious time commitment from A to Z, everything that you do.”
Through Oct. 5, FCC has assembled an 9-3-1 record. Four games remain on their schedule, and LaRocca and company believe they have the pieces to rise atop the conference and make a viable run in the national tournament.
“If we stay healthy, we can compete with anyone in the conference,” LaRocca said. “It’s all about peaking at the right time. We have the players … the sky is the limit for us.”
Kyle McFadden is the editor-in-chief of The Commuter and has his own weekly column called K-Fadd’s Cauldron. He also co-owns, manages and reports for Maryland Sports Access, where he covers many beats, including Maryland high school sports, college basketball and college football. He’s also a freelance sports journalist for The Baltimore Sun and The Frederick News-Post, covering colleges and high schools.