Severna Park goalkeeper Jason Zaks has a weird way of preparing for soccer games.
At 8 o'clock the night before a big game, the junior can be found sitting at the Doughnut Shack on Ritchie Highway in Severna Park, enjoying a strawberry frosted doughnut and a medium punch.
"You might think it's stupid, but it's just a superstition I have," said Zaks, who now has a 7-2 overall record, including four shutouts.
The second-seed Falcons (9-2 overall, 7-0 league) face third-seed Broadneck (6-2-4, 3-2-3) at 4:30 this afternoon in the first round of the Class 4A IV playoffs at Anne Arundel Community College.
The game will be a rematch of the Falcons' tough and physical 2-1 regular-season victory over the Bruins in which Zaks suffered a fractured wrist.
Zaks, who is in his first varsity season, was on last year's junior varsity squad while two seniors, including first-team All-Metro selection James Fucetola, played on the varsity.
"As a freshman, he could have probably started on any other varsity team in the county," said Falcons coach Don Gregg. "He anticipates well and cuts off the angles. He's comes up with some big plays that can make the other team back off."
Last night, needless to say, Zaks made another trip -- his fifth this season -- to the doughnut shop.
His excursions to the Doughnut Shack began Oct. 1, the night before the Bowie game. Even though the Falcons lost, 2-0, the game highlighted the defensive brilliance of the 6-foot, 160-pound junior goalkeeper who registered nine saves.
The 16-year-old Zaks somehow links his visit to the Doughnut Shack to his excellent play against the Bulldogs.
"Since the Bowie game I haven't been scored on," said Zaks. "And before every one of those games I had a strawberry frosted doughnut and a medium punch at the Shack."
Whatever works. And one can't argue with success.
Zaks has made 57 saves and has an 0.78 goals-against average. About 87.7 percent of the shots on goal wind up cradled in his arms, batted out of harm's way or redirected into the offense after a booming punt.
"I look at the 6-yard box like it's my property. I own it," said Zaks.
"You've got to issue dominance, like going up hard on every corner kick for every header to grab the ball. It's a respect measure. You've got to let the other team know you're for real."
As intense as he is in games, Zaks, who carries a 3.1 grade-point average, has a reputation for being a bit of a jester.
"He's always cracking jokes or doing weird things to liven up the practices," said teammate Brian Peterson, who leads the team with 10 goals and four assists. "One time while we were jogging, he was running around making animal noises -- ducks, geese, cows -- all kinds. And they were pretty good."
Peterson said there is method to Zaks' madness, "It's just his way of getting serious. He knows he's going to do the job in the game."
"He's the leader of the defense," said defender Nate Scheck, the only senior on the Falcons' junior-laden defense. "He's constantly telling us where to be on corner kicks and throw-ins and what you're doing wrong. He makes the great saves that get the team's adrenalin flowing."
Zaks brings plenty of experience as a member of the state's under-16 Olympic Developmental soccer team.
In the Falcons' league-finale against previously unbeaten North County (11-1), Zaks outdid Jesse (a goalkeeper) and Jody (the county's leading scorer) to help the Falcons -- last year's Class 4A state runner-up -- clinch their fourth consecutive county title.
"Playing against the Haislips made it an even bigger game. I'll never forget that game -- I got shelled for the first two minutes," said Zaks, who is in a constant battle with Jesse Haislip for the starting position on their Maryland United squad.
Zaks recorded nine saves in the game, the biggest of which was a Jody Haislip penalty kick in the first half.
"Before that penalty kick, we were so flat, I couldn't believe it," said Zaks. "After I made the save, the team was pumped. A teammate came up to me, gave me a big hug and wanted to kiss me. I told him to wait until after the game."
Of the seven goals that have gotten by Zaks this season, just one was by a county league opponent. That came in only the third game of the season (Sept. 18), that tough 2-1 victory over Broadneck in which Zaks collided with an attacking player and suffered a fractured left wrist midway through the contest.
The other goals allowed came against Howard County power Centennial (a 4-0 loss) in the season-opener and Bowie (a 2-0 loss), the Washington area's top-ranked team.
Zaks courageously finished the Broadneck game with nine saves, but his injury forced him to miss two weeks of practice in addition to games No. 4 (a 6-1 win over Queen Anne's), No. 5 (a 4-1 win over Annapolis) and eventually game No. 8 (a 3-2 overtime win over Montgomery Blair).
"There was no way that I was going to miss the game against Bowie," said Zaks. "I was in a lot of pain after the game. My legs, my arms had been kicked -- I mean I was physically beaten. But the game represented too much of a challenge. I couldn't back down."
The Bruins will bring a four-game winning streak into today's game with the Falcons, led by Matt Weimer, who has scored eight goals in that stretch.
Weimer scored the goal for Broadneck against Zaks earlier.
Said Broadneck coach Kevin McMullen: "It'll be important for us to play them on equal terms right away. (Jason Zaks) is an extremely exceptional goalie, and he'll be tough to beat."
"I think Broadneck will be a very intense game," Zaks said.
The regional championship, the state semifinals and the state finals are still a possibility. And Zaks intends on making at least three more visits to the Doughnut Shack this season.