Early in the season, Josh McNutt searched for his brother, Ryan, who at 6 feet, 1 inch, is lanky with sandy-blond hair and a square jaw.
Ryan looks just like Josh. They are twins.
“Where is that guy?” Josh said. “Ah, you know what? He probably ran home. He likes to do that.”
And that’s not a figure of speech. After boys’ soccer practices at Rock Bridge high school, his brother Ryan often would remove his cleats, don a pair of running shoes and head home. Josh was content to drive home while his brother jogged through Bethel Park and back to their house.
It was one of the few moments in the day when the McNutts were not around each other. Whether it’s in the classroom, on the soccer field or at home, the twins were rarely beyond shouting distance.
“We’re essentially the same person,” Josh said, laughing. “We have the exact same interests, are in the same classes, hang out with the same people. We’re pretty much best friends.”
Their closeness extends to the soccer field, where Ryan started at center defensive midfielder for the Bruins and Josh started at center defense. When Josh cleared the ball up the field, it was often right to his brother.
The McNutts’ season ended Tuesday night with a 1-0 loss to Jefferson City in the semifinals of the Class 3 District 10 tournament. A Jefferson City goal off a corner kick with only eight minutes left sent the Jays onto the finals against Hickman.
Josh was left standing on the sideline, watching in vain as he served a mandatory one-game suspension for drawing two yellow cards and an ejection in the Bruins’ quarterfinal win over Smith-Cotton. All he could do was cheer on his teammates, urging them to clear the ball away from the goal, hoping that Tuesday night would not be the end of his career at Rock Bridge. Chances are Josh would have joined Ryan right smack in the middle of the scrum from which the ball trickled into the goal.
The two have been together on a soccer field since they began playing at age 6, through the Columbia Pride club team and onto Rock Bridge, where both played varsity as sophomores and juniors. Josh was the only junior to start on the 2004 Rock Bridge team that won a district title and set a school record for wins and was a co-captain and clear leader of the Bruins this past season.
Both started throughout their senior year, which their No. 1 fan and mother, Mary, loved.
“They’re very competitive with each other, and I think that drives them individually,” she said. “But they’re also best friends, they do a lot together and that’s by choice, not by design.”
Neither plans to play soccer when they move onto college. What school they attend is yet to be determined. They have applied to Baylor, Missouri State, MU, and Creighton, with Baylor the current front-runner.
They should stay busy without sports, though. Ryan is Rock Bridge’s student body president, and Josh is his vice-president.
This season was a trying one for the Bruins. Whatever could go wrong, it seemed, did. Key injuries, issues with effort, a tough schedule and close calls that didn’t go the Bruins way all plagued Rock Bridge this season, often forcing them to put young and inexperienced players on the field.
Josh fought nagging injuries all season and said his biggest challenge was keeping the Bruins’ focused.
“When we were losing games, it was hard to get everyone excited about the next game,” he said. “It was a challenge making sure they knew that every game was big.”
Despite Josh’s absence Tuesday, Rock Bridge coach Kirby Keth said the brothers were model athletes, the kind of leaders that are a coach’s dream.
“The two McNutts are two of the greatest young men I’ve had the privilege of coaching,” he said. “They have great attitudes and did whatever you asked them to do with an ‘OK, coach.’”
The district loss was not the way Josh and Ryan hoped to end their soccer careers. The tournament was supposed to be the start of a new season for the Bruins, a renaissance of sorts for a team that wanted nothing more than to meet Hickman in the district final.
Josh looked out of place in street clothes, walking away from the bench after the district loss, his disappointment as visible as the result that illuminated the scoreboard. His brother Ryan, wet, dirty and tired, joined him and they made their way across the field to their parents. Both forced smiles, and it was clear that though the night was dreary, the future will be bright.