2017 Boys Soccer Player of the Year: Buono leaves own legacy at Sherando with stellar senior year

Sherando senior Sean Buono, left, is The Northern Virginia Daily's 2017 Boys Soccer Player of the Year after scoring 23 goals for the Warriors this past season. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Sean Buono’s inspiration for picking up soccer came around the age of 5, when he spent time watching his older brother Tommy kick a soccer ball around the yard.

Sean, who just finished up his senior year at Sherando High School, recalled last week the summers spent with his brother playing soccer for hours on end at their home. Even now, when Tommy – who attends The American College in Spain – returns home during the summer, Sean acts as his brother’s ball boy.

A couple years ago, the two shared the soccer field as members of Sherando’s varsity soccer team, and Sean was there to witness Tommy’s stellar high school career that ended in 2015 with him holding second place on the school’s all-time goals scored list.

The similarities between the Buonos’ playing styles are striking. Their parents, Sean said, even remarked that the two were identical when comparing photographs of each player attempting a shot during their respective senior seasons.

But while the two brothers share a strong bond through soccer, Sean said he set out to develop his own legacy at Sherando. He wanted to be more than simply Tommy’s little brother.

“I’ve always wanted to be competitive with my brother and stuff, but I don’t really like being compared to him,” Sean said. “We’re two completely different people, so I definitely wanted to kind of make my own mark.”

Three weeks after his final season of high school soccer came to an end, sitting at a picnic table under a pavilion adjacent to a soccer field the Warriors use for practice at Sherando Park, Buono said he felt he had done that.

Buono, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2017 Boys Soccer Player of the Year, emerged as a scoring force for Sherando this past spring.

In a season-long performance that certainly rekindled the comparisons to his older brother, Sean topped Tommy’s 2015 output of 22 goals by striking for 23 this past season to seize second place in Sherando’s record book for goals scored in a season.

Buono’s 2017 goal production was just one shy of the school’s overall single-season record, and it netted him the title of Conference 21 West Player of the Year and spots on the All-Region 4A North (first team) and Virginia High School League Group 4A all-state (second team) teams.

“I put a lot of extra work in this summer,” said Buono, who teamed up with the local travel squad Winchester United in the off-season leading up to his senior season. “I knew we could go far this year and I wanted to do the best I could do, and knowing it was senior year, my last year of playing, I wanted to give it everything I got. So I think that little extra drive pushed me to score more goals. But in the end it’s really the team, all the other guys assisting me. I couldn’t do it without them.”

Buono’s 2017 scoring output – he ranked second in the local area among all boys soccer players in goals scored – came after back-to-back seasons as a sophomore and a junior during which he combined for 13 goals.

Inspired by his upcoming final soccer season, Buono said he busied himself more often in the gym in preparation for the spring and found himself stronger on the ball as a result.

Warriors head coach Patrick Anderson said Buono’s biggest change this season was his composure inside the 18-yard penalty box.

“You could definitely tell on film like more of taking his time in the box, not hurrying things, picking his head up, finding his target versus, his junior and sophomore year especially, just kind of rushing things,” Anderson said. “There was just more composure. Even though he’s a fast player he was slow to finish. And again, it was amazing to see the transformation because he increased 16 goals.”

That margin could’ve been larger, Anderson said, but Buono also frequently passed up shot attempts to create opportunities for his teammates. He finished with seven assists, which ranked sixth-best among local players.

It was that team-first mentality that drew praise from Anderson, who said that Buono played through injuries without complaint over the last few seasons, including a regular bout with turf toe and broken bones in his foot.

Buono said that work ethic and determination was the product of spending his early high school years at the varsity level, and from gaining confidence as he grew into a leadership role which culminated in him stepping up to help lead practices before Anderson arrived at the field each day.

“When I first came in as a freshman I didn’t feel like I had much say in things, so on the field I just knew that in order to get respect I just had to work really hard. I think that stayed over the years. I’ve constantly worked hard,” said Buono, who also contributed what Anderson calls “Sean-isms,” which were essentially follow-up thoughts on various pep talks and inspirational notes the head coach provided the team throughout the course of the season.

The 2017 high school season might mark the end of Buono’s soccer career for the near future, as he plans to focus most of his energy on pursuing an engineering degree from Virginia Tech starting in the fall. He wouldn’t rule out joining a club team while in Blacksburg but added that he sees himself spending more time in a science lab than on a soccer field.

Buono, who began taking college courses as a high school sophomore and already has earned his associate degree from Lord Fairfax Community College, said he’s always been more academically driven than his older brother, who has continued his own soccer career overseas.

“That’s the huge difference between my brother and I. His academics weren’t – he wasn’t a fan of school, let’s just put it that way,” Buono said with a laugh. “I’ve always wanted to go to school for academics and not for soccer. That was just a side part.”

If Buono does indeed step away from the soccer field, he will do so feeling content with what he and his Sherando teammates accomplished on the field this season, which included a 14-game winning streak, a Conference 21 West regular season title and an appearance in the Region 4A West tournament.

“I was just really happy with the team this year, really proud of them,” Buono said. “A bunch of great guys, couldn’t have asked for a much more hard working team.”