Andrew Harris is truly Gilman's backbone

After watching McDonogh's Malcolm Harris get past a defender with one last exaggerated touch, Gilman goalkeeper Andrew Harris knew what was coming next.

The shot would be ripped and well placed. His next thought wasn't whether he would stop it, but how.

The Gilman boys soccer team was in the final minutes of last year's storybook season, looking for the perfect ending in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game. For Andrew Harris, it was the most important and defining moment in his high school career.

The shot — coming with the Greyhounds on their heels protecting a 1-0 advantage — was the expected cannon from 25 yards. Along the way, Harris lost sight of it behind the crowd of players in front. But instinctively, he already had it tracked for the upper right corner.

"I was like 'Oh Jeez, I gotta get over there,'" he said. "And so I just threw myself that way and it literally hit the fringe of my glove. I got the tips of my middle finger and ring finger on it, and that was all, but it was enough."

He had to make one final spectacular save afterward — his 10th of the game — to complete his school-record 13th shutout of the season in a 1-0 win that secured Gilman's first conference championship since 1995.

In those final minutes, Harris came with his best. And nobody on the Greyhounds' side was the least bit surprised.

"There's that cliché that says a team reflects the personality of its coach, but I think in this case you can go as far to say that this team reflects the personality of its goalkeeper," Gilman coach Jon Seal said. "He's a natural leader, and the kids gravitate toward him. He leads by example, but he's also the most vocal guy out there. He really just has a presence about him that demands respect."

In his senior season, Harris is not resting on any laurels, though the past year has brought him plenty. He earned All-Metro Player of the Year honors following the Greyhounds' 17-2-3 championship season, was invited to a U.S. under-18 national team camp in December and made a commitment to play at Wake Forest in February.

But he's not satisfied, still works harder than anybody and has No. 3 Gilman (17-3-1) in the mix for another MIAA championship. With their 11-2-1 mark in league play, the Greyhounds earned the second seed and a bye in Tuesday's opening round of the playoffs. They will open at home in Thursday's semifinals, playing the winner of the opening-round game between Archbishop Curley and John Carroll.

Before every practice, Harris, a two-year captain, gives his teammates a quick pep talk on the things that need to be done. Afterward, he provides a review and adds encouragement for the next day.

Harris is athletic, hard working, confident and fearless. So are the Greyhounds.

"He brings ridiculous leadership," senior defender Christian Wulff said. "He gives an aura of confidence to the entire team and he makes everybody feel like they can conquer the world."

At an early age, Harris could never get enough of sports.

In grade school, he would spend countless hours in the backyard or nearby park with his father, playing soccer, basketball or baseball. Each one-on-one session would become a competition. When it became too dark outside, they would head down to the family's basement for more.

"For Andrew, it's always been a combination of so wanting to win and so hating to lose. I'm not sure which one is stronger," said Ned Harris, an assistant coach under Seal who was Gilman's head coach from 1995 to 2003. "But mostly, it's his love of the game that I've admired most about him. He just gets such pure joy from playing."

On the soccer field, scoring goals was Harris' big thing when he was younger and — with a powerful left foot that now comes in handy on goal kicks — he enjoyed plenty of success. During a club tournament when he was 12, he got his first sample of being a goalie when the team was without its starter.

Harris naturally fit the bill: tall, athletic, loud and bold.

"I love being on the edge, being unemployed for 60 minutes and then making the big save to keep the team in it," he said. "I love that pressure. If you make a big save, it's almost the same as scoring a goal — that's how I think of it."

In his three years starting in goal for Gilman — he played forward as a freshman when the Greyhounds used a senior goalie — Harris is 47-13-7 with 373 saves and 33 shutouts.

His play has become more refined with each season, and so have the Greyhounds.

These days, he reads the game with complete control of the penalty area, surrendering just nine goals in 21 games this season. He makes the big saves and, just as important, holds onto the ball or steers it from further danger. He organizes his defense with precision and can distribute with a booming kick or a smart throw to one of his flank defenders.

"It's a luxury that very few teams have, not only in our area but the entire country," Seal said. "You're talking about a guy that you look at as a second coach on the field. And when kids have confidence in their goalkeeper, their level of play rises as well. Every time Andrew steps on the field, everybody wants to play hard for him. It's a pretty special feeling when you have that kind of presence. You don't get too many kids passing through your program like that."

Almost a year later, people still talk about the great shot by Malcolm Harris and the even better save by Andrew Harris in the championship game. The two have been longtime teammates on the Baltimore Bays club team and close friends.

"That's a rough one for me," said Malcolm Harris, a first-team All-Metro midfielder. "He just makes the amazing save when he needs to, and it's tough to get it by him. He basically did whatever he had to do to win the game — that's Andrew."

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