Old Mill senior goalkeeper Tim Carrier has made it tough on himself in a good kind of way this fall.
As a starter for the first time last season, he did everything necessary to help lead the Patriots to their first county championship and second region crown - confidently directing the defense as he gobbled up everything in sight.
So how do you top that?
"It's going to be tough because the only way we can do any better is if we get to the state final game," said Carrier, who earned first-team All-County honors.
"That's not an easy task, but I think we've looked pretty good so far and, if we can keep building on that, by the time the playoffs come, we'll be a pretty good team."
Every new season brings new questions, but with seven starters returning, the Patriots (2-1) have a solid foundation in place. For Old Mill coach Jeff Martin, there's no question as to what he has in goal.
"When Tim steps on the field, you know you're going to get a great effort every night," he said. "He's going to hold on to the ball, he's going to make good decisions distributing the ball and he's going to control his penalty area."
Those things were never more evident than in the Patriots' three wins last year over South River, which entered the season as defending county champion.
Carrier grabbed a late penalty kick to preserve a 1-0 regular-season win that clinched a berth in the county championship game.
In that title game, he turned away 19 Seahawks shots in a 2-1 win. And then he helped beat the odds against defeating a quality team three straight times with an 11-save performance in a 1-0 shutout that sent the Patriots to the state tournament.
"We just couldn't crack him, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that he'd make a couple real good saves early that makes you kind of put your head down a little," said South River coach Greg Carroll.
"And that also helped inspire his defense. It made them work just that little bit harder to give them a little bit more of an edge."
Ed Davis, Old Mill's goalkeeper coach, sees that regularly. In going 14-3-2 last season, Carrier allowed just 18 goals, finishing with 166 saves and seven shutouts.
"Every game, you know what you're going to get from Tim. He makes all the easy saves, makes all the difficult saves look easy and makes the spectacular save about 90 percent of the time," he said.
Carrier, agile at 5 feet 10 and160pounds,isa"dad-was-the-rec-coach-w ho-stuck-me-in-the-goal-when-I-was-little" keeper who started playing when he was 5 years old. He thrives on the demanding responsibility that comes with playing in goal.
"I like the fact that it's the most important position on the field and you can change the game," he said. "The best thing is when we score and we're up, then I know the game is in my hands."
The ball often ends up there, too. And stays there.
"I never saw a junior in high school hold on to the ball like he did last year in big games - he catches everything and doesn't give up any second shots," said Martin.
As a freshman in a tough spot, Carrier had a rough introduction to the varsity level, but is getting the last laugh now.
It came in a region championship game against a powerful C. Milton Wright team. Starting keeper Jeff Ward was sick and Carrier became the unexpected starter. The Patriots lost, 7-0.
"I felt terrible, like we just ruined this young kid who has all the talent in the world," recalled Martin.
"The next day in school he comes to me, opens up the newspaper and jokingly says: 'Coach, it's a good thing I dropped the ball 16 times because I wouldn't have gotten any saves then.' That's the kind of kid he is - always upbeat and positive - the kind of kid you want to build a team around."