Jake Dean's specialty has been his versatility.
According to Shawnee football and lacrosse coach Tim Gushue, Dean is the "last of a breed" because of his three-sport excellence at a large school with outstanding athletic programs.
But it's fitting that, as Dean's wide-ranging and highly successful career has narrowed to its final days, the 6-foot athlete is preparing to play his biggest game in his best sport.
Dean, a senior midfielder, will lead Shawnee into Wednesday night's Group 3 boys' lacrosse state final against North Jersey champion Ridgewood at Ridge.
"There's no better way to end my senior year than playing in the state final, and hopefully winning it," Dean said Tuesday.
Dean has been a standout in football, basketball, and lacrosse during his four years at Shawnee.
He was a two-year starter and three-year varsity player as a tight end in football. He was a three-year varsity player as a power forward in basketball, starting as a junior but missing much of his senior year because of an injury.
"In a school this size, that's really saying something," Gushue said. "He's outstanding in everything. He's the kind of kid who always makes a play when you need a play."
Lacrosse emerged as Dean's best sport during his high school career. He began hearing from college recruiters during his sophomore year and committed in the fall of his junior year to attend Virginia on a lacrosse scholarship.
At Virginia, Dean will be teammates with former Shawnee star Chris LaPierre, who will be a senior for the Cavaliers next season.
"That should be a great experience," Dean said.
A midfielder, Dean leads Shawnee (19-4) with 48 goals and 18 assists.
He scored the game-winner in the second overtime period of a 4-3 victory over perennial South Jersey power Moorestown in Saturday's sectional final.
"There was no question we were going to him, and he came through," Gushue said. "It was, without a doubt, one of the great moments in the history of our program."
In the 11-year history of the program, Shawnee never has won a state title. The Renegades reached the Group 3 state final in 2009, LaPierre's senior year, but lost to Ridgewood.
Ridgewood (12-9) is a North Jersey power known for playing a demanding schedule as well as for its strong fundamentals. The Maroons are led by senior goalie Noah Pounds, a Naval Academy recruit.
A victory over the Bergen County team would culminate Shawnee's rise to statewide prominence and serve as the capstone of Dean's career.
"To win a state championship at the end of my senior year, it would be the best feeling ever," Dean said.
5 p.m. Wednesday at Ridge
Shawnee's road to the state final: Beat Steinert, 18-2; Colts Neck, 14-6; Princeton, 5-4; Moorestown, 4-3 (OT).
Ridgewood's road to the state final: Beat Hanover Park, 19-0; Vernon, 17-0; Millburn, 7-6; West Morris, 6-3.
Shawnee player to watch: Junior goalie Reese Tursi made 18 saves in a 4-3 win over Moorestown in the South Jersey Group 3 final. He has 229 saves this season.
Ridgewood player to watch: Senior goalie Noah Pounds, a Naval Academy recruit, made 10 saves in the North Jersey Group 3 final against West Morris.
Fast fact: Ridgewood is the defending Group 3 state champion.
In pursuit of history: Shawnee is seeking the first state title in the program's 11-year history.
- Phil Anastasia