By Craig Clary, firstname.lastname@example.org
4:55 PM EDT, September 7, 2011
In the first game of his senior year at UMBC, Andrew Bulls etched his name into the record books as the school's all-time assist leader.
By the end of the season, he wants to leave even more at UMBC.
"This is my last year, and I really want to leave my mark. Whatever happens next, I will accept the challenge."
The 2008 McDonogh graduate has already left quite a few marks in the Retriever scorebooks, including 29 assists and 29 goals.
The 29th assist is one Bulls won't soon forget, and not just because it came in a season-opening 1-0 triumph over Mount St. Mary's.
It was played at the beginning stages of tropical storm Irene's visit.
Bulls' free kick was redirected by Pete Caringi to onrushing freshman Jordan Becker for his first career goal.
Bulls broke the assist mark previously held by James Hamilton, who played from 1998-2001.
"I've heard a lot about James Hamilton, who set it before me," Bulls said. "I heard he was an amazing player, and was part of the 1999 team (19-1-1) that was a really stellar team. It's a real honor. I give a lot of credit to my teammates around me."
Last year's Retriever squad (12-4-4) advanced a round farther than the 1999 squad. After beating Princeton, 2-1. UMBC was eliminated by William & Mary on penalty kicks in the second round.
Bulls provided the heroics in the win over Princeton with an assist and game-winning goal.
Coming through in the clutch didn't surprise coach Pete Caringi.
"He's always been a big-game player," said Caringi.
In 2008, Bulls scored two goals in the United States Soccer Academy championship game for the Baltimore Bays.
His 40-yard tie-breaking goal was voted U.S. Soccer's Goal of the Year for 2008.
"He's always taken his game to the next level when he had to," said Caringi, who first saw him at age 11 and knew he was special.
The versatile Bulls can play any position.
When he transferred from Old Mill High, in Anne Arundel County, to McDonogh after his freshman year, he was a defender, but Eagle coach Steve Nichols changed that.
"The thing that makes him really good is he can do all three things an offensive player needs to do very well; he can score goals, he's a great passer who can set up people, and he's very good on set pieces," said Nichols, who also coached Bulls on the Baltimore Bays club team, which he said was "one of the best teams in the country."
In both his freshman (8 goals) and sophomore years (15 goals) at UMBC, he tied for the team lead in goals while playing with Levi Houapeu, currently with the Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union. In Houapeu's senior year, Bulls moved to midfield and totaled 15 assists while Houapeu led the team with 15 goals.
"He can play up front and be one of the best goal scorers in the country," Caringi said about Bulls. "He can (also) play wide in the midfield, and set up a lot of players, which he really did last year."
Bulls' booming foot is another asset.
"You look at the great goal scorers, and they have the knack to strike a ball well, strike it on goal, whether he's serving it wide or in the box," Caringi said. "He just has that knack, which is a gift."
Bulls chose UMBC over UC Santa Barbara, Connecticut and Wake Forest.
"They wanted me to be here, and a part of this family, and this team and this atmosphere," he said. "I think that's what really drove me to come here, and I really wanted to stay in Baltimore, where I won a national championships at the youth level."
Bulls, who played with his brother Dan during his freshman year, was even hungrier after the 2009 team won only six games and some questions were raised about a possible transfer.
Yet he was adamant about staying put and building a winner.
"I wanted to be a part of a new face for UMBC," he said. " I wanted to be someone who was a part of transitioning UMBC into the program that it is today."
He feels just as good about his decision to stay now as he did then.
"After my first year at UMBC, I knew I had made the best decision. I'll still say that today, and I'll probably say it for the rest of my life," Bulls said. "I want to be able to leave a mark and set a standard that even years beyond it will still be held," he said.
Beyond that, he wouldn't mind following the path of several former Retrievers who went on to play professionally.
"My goal is to be successful in soccer," he said. It's something that's been a part of my whole life and I would love to get the opportunity to play professionally anywhere."
Meanwhile, he has some unfinished business at UMBC.
"I'm ready for a next challenge, but I'm right here and now and I'm really trying to go out with a bang," he said.