After leaving his mark with the Hays High soccer program, Jacob Maska turned his focus to finding the school that would be the best fit in allowing him to pursue his passions.
For several different reasons, Maska recently became convinced Hawkeye Community College was that place.
Maska made it official on Wednesday, signing a soccer letter of intent with the school located in Waterloo, Iowa.
Maska, an all-state and all-league performer during his high school career with the Indians, will play for coach Robbie Carroll at Hawkeye. Carroll previously coached Maska's older brother, Jordan, at Northwest Kansas Technical College in Goodland.
"He recruited me up to Iowa and I went for a visit and just fell in love with the place," Maska said. "It was kind of like a home away from home but a little bigger than Hays. The facilities were quality. I really appreciated Robbie really taking an interest in me and seeing the potential."
Waterloo is eight hours from Hays, but Maska said he's looking forward to the independence that comes with being far from home.
"It's a mix of nerves and excitement," Maska said. "I kind of want to see what I can do on my own. But at the same time, I got to make the right decisions — I'm eight hours away. It'll be a little bit of a transition, but I think I'll enjoy it."
While in Iowa, Maska will also continue to pursue one of his other passions — photography.
"The school allowed me to work my schedule where I could fit in my business classes with my photography classes, because I kind of want to open up my own photography business," Maska said. "I've really been passionate about sports photography and portraits and seeing different types of things. To really get invested in that officially, it's going to be really nice."
Hays High coach Silas Hibbs said Maska has played a vital role for the Indians.
"There's going to be a lot of things I'm going to miss about Jacob," Hibbs said. "He was a great leader for us from a character perspective as well as a great field general for us. He's a very talented young man when it comes to his playing ability. He was a good servant leader for our program — as a coach that's what you want."
Maska's favorite memory as an Indian was easy to recall.
"The biggest moment is when we beat (Wichita) Trinity for the regional championship," Maska said of his junior year. "I think it was like 15 years in between (regional championships). Ethan (Nunnery) scored the first goal and I finished them off with the second goal to make it 2-0.
"All the small moments — bus rides home, those days where we were early-morning running, miles and miles with coach Hibbs — it was those things that really built character and the person I am today."
Maska continued to make progress throughout his career and became a leader for the Indians by his junior season.
"When I started my career, I was really timid and nervous," Maska said. "I was a freshman on varsity — a lot of those guys were bigger than me at that point. I really took on the confidence as a team leader my junior and senior year to where I felt I could really impact the game with my assists and my scoring.
"I'm going down as one of the (assists and scoring leaders) in Hays High history and that means a lot to me because that's always been a goal of mine to be up there with those great people like Lane Clark, Travis Patzner and coach Hibbs."
He'll now focus on making the necessary adjustments to succeed at the college level.
"I definitely want to work on my footwork and endurance," Maska said. "In college it's a 90-minute game, not 80 minutes anymore. Definitely need to be able to last for a lot longer time. And then I definitely want to work on my finishing and my assists more and more. I want to be able to contribute a lot to this new team and hopefully build a winning program."
"Jacob has a very high soccer IQ for his age," Hibbs added. "He's been around the game a lot. That's really going to bid well for him at the next level. The speed of play is something that's going to be different for him as well as the physicality. It's a whole nother level when it comes to how big and strong some of these guys are as well as the expectations when it comes to the speed of play perspective.
"One of the things that Jacob has going well for him is that he's pretty adaptable. Though he played on the outside for me, he could step into a variety of different positions because he has a high IQ and can step in and add some value."
Maska said he's willing to play where ever he's needed.
"I've played every position on the soccer field, including goalie through my time in club," Maska said. "... It's kind of just where ever they need me and where I fit into the puzzle."
He said it's a relief to have his plans finalized.
"It's been a plan since I've been five years old," Maska said of playing college soccer. "It's extremely satisfying and a huge stress off my shoulders to finally sign and be committed to a college that I feel will benefit my future."