During his four years playing goalie for the Loyola Dons, Akira Fitzgerald had just about as many compliments sent his way as shots.
The three-time All-Metro standout - the area's Player of the Year as a senior in 2005 - was quick and agile, determined and vocal, sure-handed and poised.
Fitzgerald's finest attribute, many said, was the smart decisions he made while fiercely protecting his penalty area.
It turns out Fitzgerald made another wise choice when, after thorough consideration, he decided to play at Wake Forest.
"It came down to Wake Forest and UNC-Greensboro, and my official visit at Wake made my decision for me," said Fitzgerald, now a senior and two-year starter in goal for the Demon Deacons. "I was impressed with the close family environment within the team, the professional atmosphere, and academics was a major reason, too."
After a redshirt freshman year, Fitzgerald was the backup goalie as a sophomore when the program won its first national championship. Last season, he earned the starting job as the Deacons were ranked No. 1 in the country throughout the regular season before their bid to repeat as national titlists ended in the semifinals of the College Cup.
This year, with a largely new cast playing in front of him, Fitzgerald is a captain displaying the same qualities that got him all those rave reviews in high school.
"Akira has a good feel for the game, and he does a good job of communicating with his team to keep them organized. That's one asset - he's technically very strong and demonstrates his leadership capabilities," Wake Forest coach Jay Vidovich said. "The second part of him is, athletically, he's very quick. I call him a cat because he pounces on everything."
The highlight game of Fitzgerald's high school career was his last, when he turned away seven shots in 100 minutes to help the Dons earn a share of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship in a double-overtime scoreless tie against Mount St. Joseph.
At Wake Forest, he tied the program record with 13 shutouts last season and had a 0.63 goals-against average, one of the lowest in the country. But when asked what has been his best college moment, he doesn't hesitate to answer: winning a national championship.
"It's almost indescribable," said Fitzgerald, who got two starts in the Deacons' championship season. "The experience was unbelievable because of how close we all were. You put in so much hard work from spring workouts to the fitness in the summer and things like that, and to finally have it all culminate in a national championship is the ultimate."
Fitzgerald recalls the jubilation when the final whistle blew and still often looks at the post-game photos: "You can see how happy every single person is, whether they had the jersey on or not. ... It was total joy and happiness," he said.
After last season's upset loss to North Carolina in the semifinals, Fitzgerald has been on both sides of the spectrum. Both experiences left him wanting more.
Fitzgerald has this season and a fifth year of eligibility to help bring Wake Forest a second national championship. The Deacons are 5-2-1 this season, including two shutouts.
"Once you get a taste of it, you always want that same feeling," he said. "You understand how much work you have to put into it and how rare it is to get to that point. That drives you so much harder."
A regular on the dean's list, Fitzgerald is majoring in communication and plans to add a second major in psychology.
Alumni Report Each Friday, The Baltimore Sun will catch up with a former area high school sports figure. In the spotlight today is former Loyola soccer player Akira Fitzgerald. To suggest former athletes or coaches to be considered for Alumni Report, please e-mail email@example.com.