He had never played soccer in an organized league, but during pickup games in the East Baltimore neighborhood where he grew up, Rashidi Dennison secretly aspired to greatness like Pele.
On Sept. 7, Dennison enjoyed his moment in the spotlight and simultaneously helped to break a streak that has plagued the Milford Mill boys soccer program for nearly half of his lifetime.
Dennison scored three goals in a 6-1 victory over Chesapeake-BC as the Millers ended an eight-year losing streak at 43 games.
Ironically, Chesapeake was the last team to lose to Milford Mill in 1987. That Millers 2-1 victory improved their record to 1-8 before they lost their final two games and were without a team for the next three seasons.
"It was our first game of the year, but it was like winning a championship," said Dennison, who first played the game on an organized level during the Millers' 0-11 season last year.
"I wanted to help the team start winning, which is the main reason I joined. Now the whole team is pumped. We feel like we can do it every time."
The Millers are 1-2 going into Saturday's game against Carver A&T;, but played well enough to win in losses to Lansdowne (2-1) and Woodlawn (3-2 in overtime).
Two goals by third-year veteran Andre Blackwell, the team's best goalkeeper-turned-striker, had given the Millers a 2-0 lead against Woodlawn, which stood until the game's final 18 minutes. Woodlawn scored the game-winner with a minute left in the second 10-minute overtime.
The difference between this year's team and the ones that lost is a matter of conviction, which first-year coach Ralph Murray has endorsed.
"You guys are playing like you want to win every ballgame, and that's something that this school hasn't had for a very long time," said Murray after the Woodlawn loss. "Sometimes you get the ball to bounce your way, sometimes you don't. Soccer's a funny game that way."
But there was nothing funny about the Millers' losing streak.
"Students didn't go to the games, parents didn't go, no one went," said Murray, who has served as an assistant or head coach with the basketball team since 1979. "You either played football or basketball at Milford. Soccer was considered a nonsport."
Blackwell, a 6-1, 190-pound senior who played two years of recreation league ball before attending Milford, said, "My friends on the football team kept wondering when I was going to quit soccer and play a real sport.
"No one took it seriously. But now everyone realizes how committed we are."
The commitment began with Murray and his sons, Matthew, 14, and Scott, 16, both team members and among the program's biggest morale boosters.
"I've been involved with soccer since Scott was 6. My sons worked overtime to recruit other players," said Murray, who recently coached Matthew's recreation squad to a division title.
The Murrays have made believers out of students such as freshman Vaughan Higgins, the second-leading scorer with two goals and two assists.
"Matt and Scott are my friends, and they really convinced me that this year we could be a better team," said sophomore Chris Busick, whose had 19 saves against Woodlawn in his second start in the goal.
"There's a real sense of pride developing. We might be poking fun 30 minutes before the game, but after that, the joking's over."