HOWARD COUNTY, MD — When Hammond senior Anderson Marroquin came to the United States in 2013, the only English he knew was “hi” and his own name. He didn’t understand American culture or the way of life, and soon he found himself entrenched in a high school surrounded by peers he couldn’t understand.
His life before coming to Columbia wasn’t easy either. His mom left his home in El Salvador for Howard County in 2005 for a better life. His dad left for Guatemala in 2009 to attend to family issues. Marroquin and his younger brother stayed with his aunt and uncle in Central America for four more years before finally reuniting with his parents for better opportunities and new life in a new country.
“At first it was really hard because I was young,” Marroquin said. “I couldn’t understand all that was going on. But since I’ve grown up, we all go through difficult times and you’ve just got to step up and keep going forward.”
But there was one thing Marroquin understood better than most: the universal language of soccer. He came to high school as a polished striker with exceptional ball skills as the son of a professional soccer player. Hammond Athletics and Activates Manager Mike Lerner remembers watching Marroquin play his first varsity game as a freshman, and it was clear then he was unlike anybody the program has had in years.
“Small kid, very limited English, but you could tell from the very first game he played he was going to be special,” Lerner said. “The kid just loved to be out there and he had a knack for finding the goal. He just wanted the ball.
“It could be 20 degrees out and somebody could say, ‘Let’s go play soccer,’ and Anderson would drop everything and go play. He’s just that type of kid.”
Four and a half years after leaving E Salvador, Marroquin is this year’s Howard County Times/Columbia Flier boys soccer Player of the Year. He led the Golden Bears in goals in each of his four varsity seasons, but none was as impressive as this past year.
He led the county in goals with 22 — as many or more than four county teams totaled this fall — and assists with 17 to finish with 61 points, 18 more than anyone else in the league and the most since Mt. Hebron’s Mike Napolitano also had 61 in 2006.
“What stood out was certainly his finishing ability, as you can tell with how many goals he put away this year,” Hammond coach David Reamer said. “Our team was definitely strong on the attacking side this year.”
Perhaps more important than Marroquin’s individual accomplishments was the success of his team. The Golden Bears finished 5-4-2 in county and 7-6-2 overall, far removed from winning two games in 2014 and three in 2015 and their first winning campaign in almost a decade. They also had the league’s best offense with 57 total goals and an average of 3.8 goals per game.
And while Marroquin’s comfort on the field was evident because of his talent, soccer was key in helping him grow off of it. He’s now fluent in English and credits the sport for getting an education, something he said he didn’t care about before coming to the United States.
“Soccer was a huge thing for me because being in a new country and a new culture, it was really hard for me,” he said. “Soccer helped me a lot because I made a lot of new friends on the soccer team so I started to speak a little more and learn. At first I didn’t know anything. ... But then I started to speak to a lot of those guys, and even though I didn’t understand all of it I was just trying my best and trying to learn.”
As talented a goal-scorer he is, Marroquin admitted he and his teammates were selfish in previous years and lacked chemistry. He had 12 goals and three assists as a junior to earn second-team All-County honors, and while the Golden Bears won more games than the previous two years, they were still a below .500 team at 6-9.
“It was hard to play that way,” Marroquin said, “but this year since we got a new coach he came in and was like, we’ve got to pass the ball and move. So we actually started playing real soccer.”
The offensive totals under first-year coach Reamer were astounding. With Brennan Reamer and Emmanuel Pope helping carry the offensive load, Marroquin scored at least once in every game this year. He had two goals in a 5-3 upset victory over Mt. Hebron, a hat trick in a 6-3 win over Glenelg and two against Reservoir and Centennial.
He made it look easy at times, but David Reamer said Marroquin put in the work in the offseason to get the team working together.
“It goes back to the coachable thing: last year a lot of it was get Anderson the ball and have him drive at the team,” he said. “We worked on working as a team, so a lot of times it was getting those two or three passes and combinations to create that last opportunity on goal. He was very open and willing and listened and did really a fantastic job with that aspect of the game.”
The Golden Bears failed to get past the first round of the playoffs, losing to Wilde Lake in penalty kicks, but Marroquin will have a lasting impact on the program. Lerner said he served essentially as the mediator between the team and the large Hispanic community at the school, working throughout the year to get more kids to play. He was the translator of the team and one of the team leaders this fall.
“Anderson is such a personable guy and he’s always happy. He’s either smiling, playing soccer or he’s fixing his hair,” Lerner said. “It was awesome to watch him come in and be real quiet and just let his play speak to become really the vocal leader of the team as a senior. That’s the maturation process that as coaches we all want to see.”
Marroquin’s ability has garnered attention overseas and he plans to pursue his dreams of being a professional soccer player. He has a three-week tryout in February and March with Levante UD of La Liga Santander in Spain.
He had four goals in their final four games and scored their biggest goal of the season, netting the overtime game-winner in a 3-2 win at J.M. Bennett in the regional championship game.
“It was a beautiful, curling free kick from the right side just past the outstretched hands of the opposing keeper,” Thomas said. “Hamzah has an incredible focus on improving himself and becoming better. He's a guy that will bring ten balls to the field during the summer and work out by himself for a couple hours every morning.”
Alex Estrada, Oakland Mills, senior.
A three-year varsity starter, Estrada was one of three county players to finish with double-digit goals and assists this fall, joining Player of the Year Anderson Marroquin and Vince Broccolino. He finished the year with 10 goals and 11 assists to lead the Scorpions to a 10-4-2 overall record.
“He was our only captain on the field and off the field. He had the game-winning goal against Mt. Hebron and a penalty kick to tie River Hill in the regular season,” Oakland Mills coach Don Shea said. “He was strong in the air and we played him as a striker as the point man even though he played stopper on his club team. He’s come a long way in perfecting his skills.”
A three-year varsity player and two-year starter, Obeng was the Wildecats’ go-to scorer and leader on and off the field. He improved his goal totals from two in 2016 to 16 this season — third most among public school players — and finished with 33 points overall.
“Greg was a true leader by example on the field scoring in almost every game we played. He helped set the tone and pace of the game for our younger players,” Wilde Lake coach Trevor Shea said. “Coming into this year’s preseason you could tell that Greg was a much more mature player and ready for the responsibility of being the focus of our offense. He was by far the unanimous leader in voting for this year’s captains and continued to lead by example on the field in every game we played.”
While Mt. Hebron lost last year’s Howard County Player of the Year Johnny Linsenmeyer, Broccolino stepped up this fall and provided the offensive spark the Vikings needed. He finished the year with 13 goals and 10 assists — one of three public-school players with double-digit totals in both — and helped the team to another strong finish in county play.
“Vince was the focal point of our distribution from defensive central midfield, consistently won balls in the air, was the target on set plays, and led our team in goals and assists,” Mt. Hebron coach Michael Linsenmeyer said. “Vince never missed a practice or game during an injury-plagued season. He understood and accepted his role on the team.”
Broccolino was a two-year varsity starter, and among his season highlights was a game-winning overtime goal on a free kick against Reservoir in the regular season.
Alex Keppler, Centennial, senior.
A team captain and three-year varsity starter, Keppler stepped into the scoring role left by Ammar Narmouq and excelled. The player of the year candidate and first-team All-State selection had 15 goals in the Eagles’ first eight games this fall and helped the team win its first 3A East regional title since 1996. He finished the year with 18 goals and seven assists, good for the second-most points in the league.
“On the field, Alex is a creator with incredible touch and vision who can combine brilliantly with other attacking players. He is a fierce competitor who pushed our team to fight for wins,” Centennial coach Justin Thomas said.
Among his season highlights was a highlight-reel goal in the Eagles’ 3-1 playoff win over Atholton.
“He completed a brilliant volley off the left boot to the top-right corner of the goal. This was our only home playoff game and so our crowd went bananas,” Thomas said. “Probably one of the best goals I've seen in any high school game.”
Brady Trenchard, Marriotts Ridge, senior.
A four-year varsity player and three-year starter, Trenchard was the heart and soul of the Mustangs this season. He finished with six goals and five assists but arguably made his biggest impact off the field.
“Brady was a role model for players in his ability to control and dictate the game in addition to his leadership in the school and the community,” Marriotts Ridge coach Quinn Khouri said. “No one moment can sum up Brady’s career, but when you put everything together he has been one of the best players this program has seen in a long time.”
Khouri said Trenchard was an “inspiration” to the underclassmen because of his work ethic in practice and during games.
“He genuinely wanted to get better at the game every time he set foot on the field.”
Rudy Ventura, Reservoir, junior.
Ventura had a breakout season for the Gators this fall, leading the team in goals (six) and assists (six) as a team captain despite tearing his ACL chasing a loose ball against Marriotts Ridge on Oct. 16.
“Rudy was the engine of our attack,” coach Jason Hall said. “He really related and encouraged the younger players on the team.”
Among the highlights of his season was an early-season tournament game against Hammond.
“Rudy played as a single striker and scored two goals to lead the team back after Hammond took an early lead,” Hall said. “Just his passion was on full display that game. Rudy is a smaller player, but he will never back down.”
A player of the year candidate, Coates has been the rock of the Hawks defense, which conceded just 15 goals in 19 games and finished second among county teams with .8 goals allowed per game. He was voted team captain by his teammates and “offered the team great toughness, energy and pace,” according to River Hill coach Matt Shagogue.
“He played with a freshman center back on one side and a sophomore right back on the other, and he did exceptionally well,” Shagogue added. “He was a main reason we conceded the amount of goals we did this year, and a major reason for the deep playoff run.”
Shagogue said there is nothing particular that stands out about Coates, but “that’s only because he gave the same effort and intensity every day, whether it was a game or training.”
Zach Higgins, Oakland Mills, senior.
Higgins was among several experienced defenders for the Scorpions this fall, and he was also strong on the offensive side, finishing fourth on the team with 12 points (four goals and four assists) to go with two game-winning goals. Oakland Mills coach Don Shea credits Higgins, a two-year varsity starter, as one of the main reasons the team had six shutouts this fall.
“Zach is a strong defender. He played on the Maryland state team, the eastern regional team,” Shea said. “He’s very, very coachable, extremely energetic and worked very, very well with complimentary players.”
Shea said Higgins currently has several potential offers to play collegiately.
Sam Weaver, Howard, senior.
Lions coach Nils Schroder moved Weaver to center back — a position never played before — halfway through the season, and the results were astounding. Howard was 1-6-1 in county and had lost five straight games before winning six straight, including three in the playoffs, to reach the 4A North regional championship game.
“He told me he has ever played there but he was willing to try his best. He had a rough game or two transitioning but picked it up so fast,” Schroder said. “He was such a good communicator, and once he moved there permanently we went on a six-game winning streak and only gave up four goals.”
Schroder said Weaver, who was also a team captain, left a legacy “true to what Howard soccer is.”
“He was cut as a freshman but never let that deter him,” he said. “He played well on JV as a sophomore, earned his playing time as a junior, and was a standout senior. He epitomizes what hard word and dedication can do.”
Patrick Sherlock, River Hill, junior.
Sherlock is a two-year varsity starter and was voted a team captain by his teammates. His consistency was a major factor in the team’s success this year, and he finished with seven shutouts, including three in the playoffs.
“Patrick led by example every day. He worked and dedicated himself every day in training to prepare for games,” Shagogue said. “He studied film, analyzed players, and prepared the same for each day. He never took training off. He set an example for many younger players in the program with his work rate and effort.”
Shagogue said he expects another big year from his goalie next fall.
“Patrick has a tremendous future, and we’re lucky to have him for one more year,” he said. “Coming back with two years experience as a starter, I expect to see further growth and development as a player and leader.”