For the record, Sean Flynn is just 18 years old.
But he understands why unsuspecting soccer fans might think otherwise.
Even before a referee nicknamed him “Manimal,” during a game his freshman year, the Spring Valley midfielder has been playing with wisdom and skill beyond his years.
And then there’s the facial hair, a 5-o’clock shadow that appears around noon.
“You know, I was big and I had all the hair, so I guess that’s why they called me that,” said Flynn, a senior who will lead the defending champion Vikings against Northwestern in the Class 4A title game tonight at 7 at USC’s Stone Stadium.
“Some people started calling me Wolverine,” he said.
Opposing teams’ fans wondered and jokingly asked referees whether he wasn’t too old to be playing high school soccer. Flynn is only 5-foot-10, but plays taller.
This season, he has 15 goals and 13 assists this season for a Spring Valley team that is ranked No. 1 nationally and has won 35 consecutive games. The Vikings (25-0) last lost in the 2007 Palmetto Cup.
“He kind of enjoys it, it’s attention getting. He shaves and then two days later it comes back full-grown. He takes it in a fun way. It actually helps him I think,” Vikings coach Dave Clark said.
Even Clark marveled at Flynn’s manly stature when he first met him.
He said, “Four years ago, we were playing at Northwestern and I remember his father brought him over and said, ‘this is the youngest Flynn.’ I said ‘Man, he looks like a senior already.’ “
It turned out to be the best of both worlds.Flynn was a freshman who played like a senior, one of a few that Clark accepted onto his varsity roster.
“I just couldn’t keep him off because he was so knowledgeable of the game. He can see the field so well and anticipate how the play is going to go, and that is very valuable on the field,” Clark said.
In the years since, Flynn’s game has continued to mature.
Though he commands the field from the middle, Flynn started out as a striker and also played some defense.
“I’ve become more of a distributor. I’ve changed a lot from being the guy that’s scoring to being the one that’s getting things going,” Flynn said.
“He’s so well-rounded a player. He has been able to develop the sense of the whole game,” Clark said. “He’s one of our leaders, one of our captains. He’s like a coach on the field.”
He has a knack for controlling play and creating attacks, and he is a strong motivator for a talented squad that has beat its way through an undefeated season, a 36-game win streak and a No. 1 national ranking.
“He is the best example I can give you of when you walk out on that field, I don’t have to worry about him being ready to play,” Clark said.
Flynn can rally his team from start to finish, and he elevates the players around him, Clark said.
“I just get them around me and say what we say. We don’t lose, we won’t lose,” Flynn said.
And though Flynn has shorn his long curls and shaves frequently, he still plays a passionately conspicuous game.
“You can’t help but notice him the way he plays,” Clark said. “He is wherever the ball is. If the ball is in the air, all you have to do is follow the ball and you’ll see he’s there to head it.”
So really, Flynn doesn’t mind if folks in the stands estimate him to be in his mid-20’s. It just means he is doing something right.
“I guess, when you have confidence in your game, you play with a certain character,” he says, “and people can’t help to notice that.”
Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419.