Rich Aftoora nearly jumped out of his soccer shoes when Loyola College coach Bill Sento listed him among the starters in the locker room just before the St. Peter's game Sept. 14.
"So soon?" wondered theBroadneck graduate, now a freshman at the Baltimore college. Just five games into the season and with the 0-3-1 Greyhounds struggling?
Yes, just 10 months after helping Broadneck to a runner-up finishin the Class 4A state title game, Aftoora, the Bruins' all-time leading scorer with 31 goals and 13 assists, was about to get his first collegiate start.
And what a hefty task -- subbing for the injured Sean Nolan, a junior striker from Dublin, Ireland, who's the team's third-highest scorer (21 goals, eight assists).
"I was really nervous and just wondering how I was going to do," said Aftoora. "And I certainly didn't think I'd get a chance to score."
But Aftoora's scoring opportunity came late in the game with his team ahead, 1-0. He was standing out about 18 yards to the right of the goal keeper after a corner kick when team captain Vince Moskunas, at the top of the penalty box, popped a header his way.
"It came from about 25 yards out and I just jumped on it," said Aftoora. "The keeper came out about 10 yards -- he must have thought it would go in if he didn't come out. I just popped it in over him."
The goal capped a 2-0 shutout.
Sento had so much confidence in Aftoora that he made adjustments to get the freshman into the lineup, ultimately bolstering the defensivebackfield. Rob Elliot, a Calvert Hall graduate who entered the season leading the Greyhounds with 22 goals and 23 assists, was moved fromstriker to midfielder. Sophomore Billy Harte moved from the middle to the back.
The players worked well together as Aftoora had a first-half scoring opportunity, but the keeper beat him by inches to a cross from Elliot.
"Rich gets to the open spaces really well and canbe used as a target man. He has a tendency to stay goal-side," said Sento, who is in his 12th season.
"He's got one of the quickest turns and gets his shot off very quickly. We wanted to break him in gradually, but he's been practicing so hard," the coach said. "He's beenbreathing down the starters' necks since day one."
Not bad for a guy who had just one year of club ball with Arundel United when he was 15. Unlike several teammates, Aftoora never played Olympic Developmental soccer.
"I'd practice all the time during the summer, mostlyon my own. But I'd sometimes go up and get a pick-up game with the mids at the Naval Academy," said Aftoora, 19, who first kicked a soccer ball as a 6-year-old GARCI leaguer.
"But a lot of (the Loyola players) have better technical experience, so I think (not playing summer league soccer) hurt me a little bit mentally," he said.
Still, Aftoora is among a promising crop of recruits.
His four underclassmen roommates in an off-campus apartment are Eleanor Roosevelt graduate Billy Heiser, Howard High's Dave Nelka, Calvert Hall's Brian Geraghty and Dough Willey of New Jersey.
Heiser, a national team player, says Aftoora more than compensates for his shortcomings in skill with an eagerness to learn.
"When some players get to this level, they can think they know it all and can be closed-minded. But Rich knows a lot and is still willing to learn more," said Heiser, a freshman."I've only known him for about a month, but we've gotten close in that time. He's only going to get better. He's a great guy."
Aftoora's also a guy who is sorely missed by 10th-year Broadneck coach KevinMcMullen.
"One of the biggest things about Rich is his physical attributes. He's big, strong and exceptionally fast," said McMullen ofthe 5-foot-11, 165-pound Aftoora.
As a senior, Aftoora scored 12 goals with seven assists and was All-County, All-Metro, All-State andAll-South.
"I use him as an example to the kids all the time," McMullen said. "He came to me as a sophomore when he was going through a lot of personal problems and after nearly quitting junior high school. It's been an uphill battle, but now he's on top. I'm glad he's right up the road so I can watch him play."
"One thing about Rich isthat he worked hard on his own and made himself a good soccer player," said former Broadneck teammate John Williams, who's now attending Catonsville Community College.
"He's the one who was always confident, even when we tied four games in a row," Williams said. "He kept the team's spirits up."
Aftoora's quickness and aggressiveness arewhat caught the eye of Sento, whose Greyhounds are coming off of a 16-2-5 season, during which the team captured a second consecutive Maryland Atlantic Athletic Conference title.
"I was impressed with his work rate. In the games that I saw him play at Broadneck, he never had his head down," said Sento, who last year received MAAC Coach of the Year honors for the second straight season.
"I'm extremely pleased with his progress. He's a determined player, and I'm sure he's going to play a very important role here at Loyola," Sento said.
Aftoora's first collegiate start was an overall success but wasn't without freshman mistakes.
Sento admonished him at halftime for letting a defender out-hustle him to a ball and then watching as the playerdribbled away.
"I had to quit chasing him after getting the ball stolen from me," said Aftoora. "He just let me know that I'd better not do it again."
Said Sento, "I (scolded him) because he wasn't playing like Rich Aftoora. That was so uncharacteristic of Rich.
"He's still in an adjustment period where he's learning what to do away from the ball. I doubt I'll have to tell him something like that too many times."
Aftoora helped to secure the Greyhounds' first victory of 1991, but he knows that one goal does not a season make.
"It just shows that I can score on this level and gives me more confidence," said Aftoora.
"Hopefully, I'll get another chance."