Stewart Diaz assisting Ryan Jockers is nothing new

Ryan Jockers, left, and Stewart Diaz played for the Bunnell High Bulldogs three decades ago. Now they coach together at Stratford High and, on Friday, returned to their old stomping grounds as the Red Devils visited the Bulldogs and won 5-0. — Andy Hutchison photo

About three decades ago, Stewart Diaz assisted Ryan Jockers on the decisive goal as the Bunnell High boys soccer team earned the its first state tournament game victory in program history, a 1-0 win over North Haven at Penders Field during their junior year in the fall of 1990.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and Diaz is again assisting Jockers, this time on crosstown rival Stratford High’s sideline.

Jockers is the head coach of the Red Devils, and Diaz is his assistant.

On Friday, Stratford visited Bunnell — win, lose, or draw this would be a memorable night for Jockers and Diaz.

They led Stratford to a 5-0 win over their alma mater, then spent some time catching up with former teammates and friends who were in the stands supporting them.

“It was an intensely emotional night, but it couldn’t have gone any better,” Jockers said after his Red Devils picked up their third win of the fall.

Jockers has very recent history with Bunnell. He served as an assistant coach with the Bulldogs last year and was hoping to become the team leader when the position opened up after the season.

“I wanted that job, but I couldn’t be happier with the way things turned out,” Jockers said.

When Jockers got the head coaching position across town, he contacted his former teammate and longtime friend to see if he would join him on the sidelines. Diaz, who had coached at private schools, including in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was back in the area so the timing was just right.

Jockers and Diaz go back before high school. They played together on the first Stratford travel soccer team, the Stratford Exchange Club Rowdies, through the Sterling House program. They won the league title that year.

“It’s a long history, and all these things happened over the summer for this to fall into place for him to be my assistant….Well it’s the best,” said Jockers, who describes this coming to be as a “serendipitous series of events.”

Diaz said: “It’s a special feeling being here. Being here brings back a lot of memories for sure.”

Jockers, All State in 1991, and Diaz, 1992 graduates, were a successful combo on the Bunnell pitch when it was a natural grass surface. They also helping the Bulldogs to their first conference title.

They went their separate ways after high school. Jockers studied at the University of Connecticut, and Diaz went to Virginia Tech, where he played collegiate soccer.

The connection these soccer enthusiasts have extends beyond the playing surface and they were brought closer together by tragedy when their sisters, Erin Jockers and Debbie Diaz, were killed in an automobile accident in the fall of 1993.

“We’re like,” Jockers said before to pausing to retract the word like and continuing “we’re brothers.”

Sterling House remembers their sisters every year through the Debbie Diaz Sportsmanship Awards and Friends of Erin Jockers Awards.

Jockers and Diaz — effectively brothers because of all they have been through together — are looking to do their part to make a difference in the Stratford soccer community.

“Both of us have the same attitude. We both strive to be good students of the game. The game has evolved since we played,” Diaz said. “Whether it’s blue or red we’re all in it together. We all want to see the game improve.”

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