At 5-foot-7, 160 pounds, South River's senior midfielder Chris Messineo doesn't have the physical appearance of a dominating lacrosse player.
But Messineo's coach says he "busts his rump for 40 minutes,"displaying so much skill and tenacity that Navy lacrosse coach BryanMatthews, on advice from his assistant Matt Hogan, signed Messineo before the start of his senior season. Messineo, who maintains a 3.5 grade-point average, will spend a year at Navy's prep school.
"Chris is a very tough, hard-nosed talent -- the kind of student-athlete we look for at the Naval Academy," said Matthews, whose midshipmen are ranked ninth nationally. "We saw him play a lot this summer, but this spring I understand he's having a great season."
Messineo (14 goals, 13 assists) isn't the Seahawks' top scorer. That honor belongs to senior teammates Adam Cizek (21, two), followed by Matt Czoka (17, 15).
But Messineo has assisted in the scoring of most of the Seahawks' 81 goals, said South River coach Greg Carroll.
"He sets up most of them on his sheer hustle. He leads in ground balls every game," said 15th-year coach Carroll, whose 7-3 Seahawks missed last year's playoffs with an 8-4 record.
"In hockey, the midfielder gets points for an assist before the assist on the goal. If that was true in lacrosse, Chris would be way in front."
South River needed a jump start in Tuesday's 6-2 victory over Annapolis, and Messineo was the spark plug. He gave the Seahawks a 1-0 halftime lead, then assisted on the first of Cizek's three goals to put the Seahawks up, 2-1,and later broke a 2-2 tie with a goal.
"I don't care about the points, but it's my responsibility to try and spark things," said Messineo. "(Annapolis) scored because I made a defensive mistake, so I took it personally. I couldn't erase the goals, but I could fix (the situation)."
Messineo looked unstoppable in the consolation game of Thursday's C. Milton Wright Holiday Invitational, as South River trailed, 6-0, in the fourth period of an eventual 10-4 loss to Georgetown Prep.
In slicing the deficit to 6-4, Messineo won four faceoffs, assisted on three goals and snatched seven ground balls -- all in the period's first two minutes, 19 seconds.
"If we're not getting goals from our attack, then Chris can just take over," said Carroll, who played mostly reserves against Georgetown Prep because the game did not count toward playoff standings. "If Chris hadn't scored a goal allseason, he'd still be invaluable. He's my best player. Anyone who isn't convinced, just come out and see a game."
But to the casual observer, Messineo's workmanlike skills might be overlooked, much like the offensive lineman's efforts often are obscured by the stats of football's skill-position players.
For South River, however, Messineo is the quarterback of the offense, signal caller for the defense and a winner of 66 percent of his faceoffs.
"He's just so sound fundamentally, from faceoffs to ground balls, to the way he starts the transition," said Czoka, who is considering scholarship offers from Towson State and the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. "He's strong in everything, and I don't think anyone in the county can do itbetter."
In a recent 8-7 victory over the Seahawks, Mount Hebron coach Warren Michael got a "real good look" at Messineo, who runs the40 in 4.7 seconds.
"My scouting report on him was simple: 'Tough Player,' " said Michael, whose Vikings -- ranked No. 11 in the Baltimore Sun poll -- are defending Class 2A state champions.
Against the Vikings, Messineo clamped down to win three of five faceoffs and scoop up eight of his team-leading 90 ground balls.
"He leads us by example," said South River defender Chris Asher, who will join Messineo at the Naval Academy next fall. "He talks to the defense a lot, and he's the one who gets the offense going."
Messineo was an All-County running back as well, averaging 6.3 yards per carry and 25.6 yards per catch for seven touchdowns to lead the Seahawks to the Class 3A playoffs last fall.
"Looking at my options, I figured I'd have abetter chance (in college) with lacrosse," said Messineo. "(Signing)with Navy was a tremendous weight lifted off of my shoulders."