MORGANTOWN — University boys’ soccer coach Dustin Talton still remembers what one of Joseph Biafora’s middle school coaches told him years ago — long before the future WVU commit stepped foot on the pitch at Mylan Pharmaceuticals Stadium.
“When he first came in as a freshman, another coach said to me, ‘This kid is going to score goals for you,’ ” Talton said.
Fast forward four years and Biafora lived up to that promise. Biafora capped his senior season with 49 goals and 13 assists, anchoring a Hawks unit that would cruise to an undefeated regular season and a spot in the Class AAA state semifinals, before bowing out to George Washington. His performance was good enough to earn 2018 West Virginia Sportswriter’s Association Player of the Year honors.
“As a freshman, I saw the older guys from around the state getting these awards and I wanted to be apart of the fun,” he said. “I did everything to be the best I could possibly be and it paid off.”
Biafora’s story is one of passion for the sport, Talton said; you’ll never get anything less than 100 percent from him when he laced up the cleats.
“I think he’s always had that raw passion, that emotion, that drive — he’s matured as he got older, as he focused and had a goal in mind,” he said “That doesn’t show up in the stat book, but I knew every game I would get his best effort. You don’t always get that. We only played two games this year where he didn’t score — he shows up every day and puts his best out there.”
Biafora was graced with plenty of talent, of course — Talton describes him as having a “natural talent for scoring the ball” — but he knew he could stretch that talent far and develop a truly special game if he trained for it.
“Talent can only bring a player so far and that’s not what made me successful,” he said. “I’ve been working my butt off my whole life to get to this point.”
For Biafora, there is little that can satiate his appetite to develop as a player, every rep counts. So much did he embody this mentality that Talton recalls times where Biafora would miss shots during the pre-game and get flustered.
“If he wasn’t scoring goals in warm-ups, he wouldn’t be happy with himself. He would get mad,” Talton said.
It’s that type of dedication that proves rare at the high school level, and part of what makes Biafora such a special player. It wasn’t just himself that he energized with his drive, either it served as major motivation for his coach and his teammates.
“I think, as a coach, and it trickles down to the rest of the team, when you know you have someone who can put the ball into the net and play that way, it gives you confidence that you can win any game,” Talton said.
“That’s something you can’t coach — sometimes you have to just cut him loose and let him be himself up there.”
Of course, there’s still a lot to be said for the skill Biafora possesses, his knowledge of the game and his instincts on the pitch. He can dribble and maneuver around the defense with grace, and beat an opponent one-on-one. He can win battles in the air, create plays with his back to the goal and put the ball in the net from some of the toughest angles. When Biafora is on the attack, other teams should watch out.
“It’s kind of crazy. I’ve grown up around the game — there are guys that just have a knack to defend, or distribute, and then you have guys like him — his soccer IQ and how he plays the game, he knows how to put himself into position,” Talton said.
Biafora played the game for so long, though, that what seems impressive to the average coach, fan or player is second nature for him. How much of it came naturally and how much was developed through practice seems irrelevant, what matters is that when he shows up to play, he can usually be counted on to display that talent.
“I just play. I go out every game with the same mindset — I’m out there trying to have fun and that’s what the game brings me. I don’t have a style of play and I don’t over think everything,” he said.
“All my problems go away and I don’t think about anything but playing. Goals just come naturally from playing the game. I let the game do the work and when my opportunity comes I take it.”
Biafora may be leaving the halls of UHS, but his impact won’t be forgotten soon. He has left an example for young Hawks about what can be achieved on the pitch, and left a lasting mark as both a leader and a teacher to the underclassmen he shared the locker room with that will pave the way the next few seasons.
“It’s not only that it gave us success over the past four years, but he has helped the younger players along the way. They’ve learned a lot from getting to play with him. He’ll have a longstanding impact, and that’s a plus for the future of the program,” Talton said.
“He shows what can happen if you really love the sport and put the time and effort into it — you can do some really great things, and I think people will probably remember that for a really long time.”
As Biafora moves on to represent Mountaineers all across the state, there are a lot of uncertainties regarding his future. Still, he is sure of one thing — UHS will always hold a special place in his heart, and he doesn’t plan on straying to far from his roots.
“I’m very proud to have accomplished what I have at UHS and it’s been the best four years of my life. This school has given me more than I could ever ask for and I only wish that I can give back half as much,” he said.
“I don’t plan on going far in the future. I hope to keep giving back and helping this team in the following seasons. It’s the least I can do.”