When twin brothers Jeremy and Michael DeGraffenreidt decided to pick musical instruments when they were younger, nobody close to them was surprised which ones they chose.
Jeremy, brash and outgoing, wanted to bang on drums. Michael, laid back and analytical, was determined to master the saxophone.
Their contrasting personalities can also be found at different ends of the soccer field at Loyola this season, making the No. 2 Dons a prime contender for this year's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship.
Jeremy is the dangerous forward-midfielder who puts constant pressure on opposing defenses. Michael is the smooth central defender who continually disrupts an opposing team's forward progress.
Both scored Tuesday in a 2-0 win over Archbishop Spalding as the Dons improved to 5-1.
"If you profile goal scorers, they're more eccentric, a little wilder, and they take more risks, whereas defenders are a little more astute and calm and composed back there. So Jeremy and Michael really fit the psychological profiles of the positions they play," Loyola coach Lee Tschantret said.
After spending their first three years on the varsity team and also playing at a high club level in the Baltimore Bays program, the DeGraffenreidt brothers, who have committed to play for national power Louisville next year, had a tough decision to make going into their final year of high school.
Starting this year, the U.S. Soccer Federation has asked the country's top youth players to train full time with their Development Academy teams and no longer play for their high schools. The request is aimed at developing more talent and depth for the U.S. national teams. After much deliberation and consultation with their parents and coaches, the DeGraffenreidts wanted to continue their careers at Loyola.
"It was one of the toughest decisions we had to make along with where we wanted to go to college," Jeremy said. "Obviously, Academy is going to be a higher level of play, but it's more than soccer. It's also about leadership, representing your high school for the last time and we just felt Loyola was the right decision."
After falling in the MIAA semifinals in each of the past three seasons, the Dons have a mix of experienced players and promising newcomers this year. Jeremy and Michael provide the dynamic starting point. What the 17-year-old twins — Michael is five minutes older — do share on the field is tremendous natural athletic ability, tough-to-match speed and gifted soccer skills.
At the offensive end, Jeremy, who has six goals and seven assists, is the area's most dangerous threat with the ball at his feet. The Dons have already scored a number of goals this season with him winning the end line and then sending the ball in front for easy finishes.
As a defender, Michael's ability to read the game and cover from one side to the other provides the team with an ideal security blanket. In the Dons' 3-0 win over Mount St. Joseph in the league opener last Thursday, Jeremy scored minutes into the game, added an assist and Michael showed he can be dangerous moving forward by scoring his first goal of the season.
"For the last three years and this being the fourth, every time you game plan against Loyola, Jeremy and Michael have been two players you have to look out for and account for at all times," Gilman coach Jon Seal said. "They possess tremendous pace, they know the game very well and the older they've gotten, the stronger they've become, so they're a handful to prepare for and a handful to play against. I don't think it's a coincidence that when they decided to play high school this year, Loyola vaulted to [near the top of] the preseason rankings."
One of the DeGraffenreidts' first decisions was finding the right sport. At an early age, they were already displaying gifted coordination, lightning speed and endurance. They excelled in basketball and baseball, but quickly became sold on soccer after attending their first summer camp at age 6.
A family vacation to the Grand Canyon later that summer proved their future was in soccer.
"We didn't bring a soccer ball, so they took all of their socks, rolled them up in a big ball and started kicking it around the room," said their mother, Mychelle Farmer. "They had just started learning about soccer, but you could tell right away they were very passionate about it. I was like 'Oh my gosh, they really love this sport.'"
From there, much of their soccer skills were developed in the family's backyard with flower pots serving as makeshift goals. Jeremy and Michael would push each other for hours with 1-on-1 games to 10. While neither would admit the other had any advantage, they did agree the strong push they received made them the players they are today.
"It's hard to explain but it's just a special bond that we have," Jeremy said. "We've always tried to outdo each other and we try to push each other to the fullest. We hold each other to a high standard and I'm happy when he succeeds and he's happy when I succeed."
One of the highlights the two shared on the soccer field came in 2010 when they played for the Baltimore Bays club team that won the under-15 national championship.
"That was amazing," Michael said. "Seeing everybody put the work in and doing their part — nobody gave up the whole season — and then to see everyone's faces after we won it was the best feeling ever."
The brothers are determined to finish their high school careers with that same feeling, determined to bring home a coveted MIAA championship.
"This is big," Michael said. "It means a lot to everybody on the team to win it and if we don't, I don't think we've reached our goal to the max. Everybody has to do their part, nobody can take a day off. We know we all have to work every day to get better and if that happens, we should be the victors at the end of the year."