The small plaque that hangs above the kitchen sink has been there for as long as McDonogh senior Chris Agorsor can remember.
It's metallic brown, 5 inches wide and long with white capital letters. It reads: "I shall pass this way but once, therefore, any good I can do or any kindness I can show let me do it for I shall not pass this way again."
Agorsor once asked his mother, Glenda, if he could put it in his car so he would have it everywhere he goes, but she wouldn't budge.
So his solution was to write the message on a rubber band that can be found around his wrist. It took both sides and a lot of time to get all the words in - small block letters, all caps - and, at this point, the 17-year-old star forward on the No. 2-ranked Eagles soccer team (8-1-1) rarely takes note of it.
That's because he has all the words memorized.
"I love that and try to live by it. That's what it's really all about, and that has helped me stay focused," Agorsor said.
This year, staying focused has been a particular chore for Agorsor, a Severn resident and U.S. national pool player on the under-18 team. Set to graduate from high school a year early, Agorsor, who has accepted a full scholarship to play at Virginia, is considering whether he will go to college or play professionally.
In August, he visited family in England and had a chance to train with the professional club Tottenham, which offered him a contract after his first session. Later in the month, he was off to Spain to play in a tournament with the New York Red Bulls' youth club. He started in all three games the team played in, scored two goals and turned heads with his explosive speed and creative work in the penalty area. In October, he has an invitation to play with the U.S. under-20 team in a tournament in France.
At the moment, his immediate attention is on McDonogh and his senior year. Although his academic load has nearly doubled because of his plan to graduate early, Agorsor maintains a 3.7 grade point average.
He's excelling on the field, as well. In five games - he returned Monday after missing four games with a hip flexor - he has scored nine goals and added two assists.
Agorsor blew by defenders and beat goalkeepers for 16 goals last season, helping the Eagles reach the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game, where they lost to Archbishop Curley, 1-0. This fall, Agorsor, 5 feet 6 and 140 pounds, is adamant about bringing home a league title before moving on.
"It's all about completion and going out on the right note," he said. "The MIAA is a very talented and athletic league. So every time you step on the field, you really can't take your foot off the pedal. From our end, it's just going to take complete focus because the talent is there, the skill level is there, but there are other intangibles. Drive and determination are just as important, so if we bring that, then I don't believe there will be another team that can compete with us this year."
Plenty of motivation
Agorsor got his early soccer education from his father, James Sr., a native of Ghana who moved to the United States in 1977.
Chris Agorsor recalls watching soccer on TV in the family's basement when he was 3, urging his father to teach him how to pass the ball. From that point on, the younger Agorsor couldn't get enough soccer.
"I was in my underwear and I had socks on and the basement floor was slippery, so I kept slipping and couldn't pass the ball," he said. "My father was getting frustrated, not because he didn't want to teach me, but because I was so impatient. Ever since then, it was just something that excited me, and I have always been happiest playing soccer. So that was it: underwear with the socks on in the basement begging to learn how to pass with a ball that was almost bigger than me."
The elder Agorsor taught his son the importance of proper technique, hard work and the need for repetition to try to perfect his skills, so Chris would spend countless hours with a soccer ball - juggling, trapping, passing, shooting - always making sure to use both feet.
His father also encouraged creativity and flair, something that stands out every time Chris Agorsor steps onto the soccer field. And having an older brother, James Jr., now 20, a former standout at DeMatha and Arundel, also provided motivation.
"Soon we recognized he had a real desire and passion for the game that most kids didn't have at such an early age," James Sr. said. "He would watch his brother play and would always say: 'Dad, I want to play like my brother. I've got to be better. I want to play better than him.'"
Agorsor suffered some setbacks that helped make him the player he is today. When he was 11, he tried out for the Olympic Development Program for the first time but didn't make the team. At the same time, he was also playing just five minutes a game for his club team.
"I was crying in the car and asked my dad: 'Am I really that bad?' And he said, 'Well, do you like playing this game?' And when I told him yes, he said, 'Then you have to find a way to make it work,' " Agorsor said.
So it was more passing the ball off a wall, more juggling, more shooting.
"My father posed it to me as a problem-solving thing, which I love because it's a good skill to have, not just in soccer but other areas," Agorsor said. "To be able to take a problem and say: 'How can I challenge myself to fix it?' It's a rewarding feeling to know that you've worked hard for something and you feel like you've got a positive outcome you deserve."
When James Sr. handed his son over to McDonogh coach Steve Nichols as he entered high school (Agorsor also joined Nichols' prominent club team, Casa Mia), he asked the coach to do whatever it takes to make him a more complete player. Nichols, who preaches defense, discipline and accountability, obliged by meeting the gifted forward halfway.
"I learned that you don't want to restrict Chris in any way," Nichols said. "I think the first year, when I was trying to get him to play the right way, I may have been limiting him with some of the things he could do. When you got a special kid like that, you've got to let him go a little - like a wild pony."
Agorsor, who got his first call-up on the U.S. youth national team three years ago with the under-14 team, may appear small in stature, but his frame is plenty sturdy to hold off bigger defenders. And while his breakaway speed and tricky moves stand out the most, perhaps his biggest asset has nothing to do with his physical skills.
"You can't underestimate his toughness," said Blast general manager Kevin Healey, who also coaches Agorsor at the club level. "No matter how many times he gets knocked down in a game, he rarely gets frustrated. He just gets more determined on the field."
For Agorsor, it's just more problem solving.
"It's just part of the game - they're bigger, I'm faster. Everybody has their own thing, so you have to use your strength to the best of your abilities to overcome their strength. It's 90 minutes of a mental battle. How bad do you want it?" he said.
Nichols said Agorsor still has room for improvement, mostly with his first touch and decisions with the ball. But with his skills, work ethic and passion for the game, there's no limit to what Agorsor can accomplish in the years to come.
"There's a couple things that I've noticed about Chris, and the first is that he's a very competitive guy, so he's in every play, thinking about how to be a guy that's gaining advantages out there," U.S. under-18 coach Bob Jenkins said. "He is dangerous individually. He's got good speed and he's also pretty quick. So he's fast over a long period, but he's also very quick in tight areas. He's exceptional in changing direction and changing gears. And then his feet are good. So he's got some good tools to start with."
What Agorsor enjoys most about soccer is its unlimited creativity.
"It's fun for me. It's my way of expressing myself, and I play how I am," he said. "I enjoy the fast pace and at the same time, while running at full speed, having that ability to mentally slow down and think: What can I do right now? Things happen in a split-second and you have to be able to think about that."