Amir Najib knew his time had come.
Having been a varsity player in the Marriotts Ridge program since his freshman year, Najib had learned from the best. He had watched how midfielders Patrick Sullivan and Brad Martinelli, among others, had assumed leadership roles as seniors and guided their respective Mustang teams to success on the county and state levels.
So, as one of just a handful of returning starters this fall on a Mustangs' team that had won its fourth consecutive state championship the previous season, Najib relished the opportunity to try and continue the legacy.
"Every year there is an expectation that someone is going to step up into that leadership position; that's the way it's always been here at Marriotts Ridge. This year, I felt like it was my turn and I tried to embrace it," he said. "Some people might have felt like it was a lot of pressure, but I wanted that. It's an honor to be in that position for this team and I worked hard every day to try and live up to the guys before me."
While Marriotts Ridge fell a few games short of its ultimate goal this fall of a state-record fifth straight state title, Najib more than met the standard of those before him. In fact, in some ways, he raised the bar even further.
In one of the greatest offensive single seasons in Howard County history, the senior midfielder finished with 21 goals and 10 assists for a county-best 52 points. It's the highest point total for a county player since Mt. Hebron's Mike Napolitano (61 points) in 2006 and the most points by a county public school midfielder since Howard's Todd Haskins registered a county-record 72 points in 1989.
It's because of that offensive explosion — combined with an all-around game and leadership role that helped Marriotts Ridge to a share of the county title this fall — that Najib has been named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Player of the Year.
"We've had some great players, but he's right up there near the top," said Marriotts Ridge coach Kevin Flynn, whose program has now produced five of the last six Howard County Players of the Year. "And, I tell you what, his work rate is the best we've ever had. In terms of getting up and down the field both ways, there is nobody better than Amir. His competitiveness is on an entirely different level."
Ironically enough, it was a friendly competition between Najib and teammate Jeff Kammerer that helped pave the way to the Mustangs' 14-2 campaign. The dynamic duo, which Flynn says developed a tremendous chemistry over the years in practice and on their club team, fed off one another to produce the greatest offensive season in Marriotts Ridge program history.
Kammerer ended up matching Najib's 21 goals and added eight assists of his own, making the two of them the second set of teammates in county history to combine for more than 100 points. Marriotts Ridge as a team averaged 3.5 goals a game.
"They both pushed each other and helped each other become better players," Flynn said. "It was funny because I think they each wanted to outdo the other, but it was all in an effort to make us the best team we possibly could be."
When the dust settled on the season, Najib had registered at least one point (a goal or and assist) in every game but two and accumulated four hat tricks.
As an attacking midfielder, there were few better in the entire state. But, despite his scoring ability, Najib says he never had any desire to move up into a forward role.
"I played striker first half of the year my sophomore year and, honestly, I'm just not a successful scorer as a striker," Najib said. "When I'm in the midfield, I'm extremely involved in the play and I gain confidence in that. My strength has never been being able to get behind the defense like guys like Jeff can — he's brilliant at that."
The truth is Najib was so versatile that Flynn needed him in the middle anyway. Already great with the ball at his feet, Najib worked to become just as good at winning balls in the air during the offseason. This fall, with that added to his arsenal, he became one of the Mustangs' best players in terms of defensive clearances.
"He was obviously an excellent attacking midfielder, but, if we had asked him to, he could have easily been the best defensive midfielder on the team. He has the skills to play anywhere," Flynn said.
Looking ahead, Najib still hasn't decided on his college plans. He's had conversations with several Division I teams, including Saint Joseph's and James Madison, but nothing is imminent at the moment. Flynn says, though, that he thinks Najib has the skills to play almost anywhere in the country.
But no matter where he may end up, the Mustangs' coach says Najib's place in Marriotts Ridge history is secure.
"For the younger guys on the team, he set the example for what can be done and what level they should aspire to," Flynn said. "Here's a guy that was clearly the best player on the team, yet every day in training he was also clearly the hardest worker.
"He showed each of the guys just how good a high school player could be."