Foresters' Heath now uses fire within to fire up team

April 21, 1994|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Sun Staff Writer

Forest Park midfielder James Heath says he's a different player from a year ago -- one who can give or take a fierce check, while keeping his temper in check.

"Last year, if things didn't go my way or if I'd get double-teamed, I'd get mad," said Heath, a second-team All-City pick. "This year, I'll say things to pump up the team, but I'm into playing team ball."

Heath (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) disperses credit for his growth among Forest Park coach Obie Barnes, recreation league coach Gene White and his aunt, Rita Williams.

"The biggest lesson I've learned," said Heath, "is to accept being a team player and an individual player.

"The more you encourage your teammates, the better they play. I feel it's my responsibility to keep them together on and off the field."

Heath leads the Foresters (6-0) with 26 goals and 13 assists and has won nearly 80 percent of his faceoffs. He has 112 goals and 66 assists for his career and runs the 40-yard -- in 4.5 seconds.

Salisbury State College, ranked as high as No. 2 nationally this season, heads a long list of Division II programs that are pursuing Heath -- a 3.2 student with all the tools a great player needs.

"We had a long talk about the way things went last year, and he's really responded," said Barnes, whose teams are 52-5 over the past 4 1/2 seasons. "His attitude's really changed. He's become more patient. You can see it in practice."

It was also evident in Heath's most rewarding performance this season, a six-goal, three-assist effort in Forest Park's 14-10 victory over Poly, which shared the league title with last year's 10-3 Foresters and City.

Against Poly, Heath scored the first three goals -- two of which were unassisted -- to give Forest Park a 3-1 lead. Though Heath assisted on Sean Markley's second-quarter goal, the Foresters trailed, 7-4, at halftime.

Heath opened the third period with two assists and scored his team's third goal of the quarter to tie the game at 7.

Heath also scored to tie the game at 10 heading into the fourth period, during which the Foresters outscored the Engineers, 4-0, with Heath netting the game's final goal.

"Heath is a bull, and he controlled the faceoffs in the third quarter, which is probably why we ran out of gas," said Poly coach Augie Waibel. "He probably had eight shots and he scored six goals -- that's pretty good shooting."

It was Heath's best game since a six-goal, four-assist performance in the Foresters' season-opening 19-3 victory over Carver.

"He played hard the whole way and only had a one-minute break when he came out because of a penalty," said Barnes. "I moved him to the attack because his legs started cramping up. He really gave it his all."

Heath's effort was better than in two losses to Poly last year.

In the first game, an 8-7 Engineers victory, Heath had 19 saves as goalkeeper. But his temper forced Barnes to remove him from the second, a 9-8 loss.

Heath has been the focus of opposing defenses this year, despite capable scorers in Markley (17 goals, seven assists), Dathan Jones (eight, 10), David Medlin (six, six) and Keith Fatherly (10, one).

"I've never been on a Forest Park lacrosse team that hasn't won a league title," said Heath. "Last year, we lost [8-7 to Cambridge] in the first round of the playoffs, but we want to be the first city public school to win a playoff game."

Heath passed a major test in a 6-2 win over the Northwestern, which had just won, 7-3, over City. The Wildcats had snuffed the league's top returning scorer, Ben Posil (39 goals, 17 assists last year).

Northwestern limited Heath to a goal and an assist, but Heath's end-to-end hustle led to 15 ground balls. The Foresters had a 9-4 advantage in faceoffs, with Heath winning six of them, including all five in the second half.

"I didn't score as much as I wanted to," said Heath, "But I proved I don't necessarily have to score to help us win."

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