On the lacrosse field, long-stick midfielder Zac Davliakos is one of Loyola Maryland's top defensive players, tying for second on the team in caused turnovers (14) and ranking third in ground balls (36) while adding two goals and three assists. Off the field, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound junior is renowned for his stamina and determination in the weight room.
"He's one of the hardest workers on our team," junior short-stick defensive midfielder Brian Begley said.
Davliakos' success is even more remarkable considering he was born with only the thumb and pinky finger on his left hand. Nevertheless, he wears regular lacrosse gloves and grips a 6-foot pole with his left hand at the bottom.
Davliakos said he never noticed he was different until he began going to school.
"But at the same time, most people didn't really look at it," he said. "Most of my friends were OK with it. I noticed it, and it kind of affected me sometimes, but the majority of the time, it was one of those things I didn't think about because I grew up with it. I was just used to doing everything with it."
Davliakos credits his attitude to his parents John and Peggy Davliakos, who taught him that there was nothing wrong with being different. In fact, the word "disability" is not used in their home, in Stevensville in Queen Anne's County.
"We've always told him that some people will like it, and some people might not like it, and the people who might not like it just don't know any better or any different," Peggy Davliakos said. "So you can't be mad at them. They may say something or they don't want to hold your hand, but it's not their fault. You can't be angry."
John and Peggy Davliakos said doctors have diagnosed their son's condition as being a result of toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by a parasite found in cats. Peggy Davliakos said she might have been infected when she took care of a sick neighborhood cat before she discovered she was pregnant with her son.
When Zac Davliakos was born in June 1996, his parents were not filled with panic or regret.
"We were so glad and so full of joy when he was born," John Davliakos recalled. "That's how he was, and it didn't bother us at all."
Following a doctor's advice, John and Peggy Davliakos treated their son normally, enrolling him in baseball, basketball, lacrosse and soccer. Zac Davliakos has hammered nails during missions with his family's church, uses a strap to lift weights and shoots bogey golf. After he broke a knuckle on his right hand during a lacrosse game, his father punched a hole through a plastic egg and put a pencil in it so Davliakos could write with his left hand.
"It was never about not doing something," John Davliakos said. "He would have to face the obstacle and figure out what he needed to do to overcome that."
As he grew older, Zac Davliakos noticed the stares and fielded the questions. But he usually turned discomfort into laughs, conjuring stories of surviving a shark or wolf attack before finally telling the truth to his wide-eyed audience.
"My parents told me it was OK if I was different. So from them, I kind of made it into a joke," he said.
Despite starting on Severn School's varsity lacrosse team since he was a freshman, Davliakos did not get much attention from Division I programs until athletic director Julian Domenech called Loyola coach Charley Toomey, telling him, "This kid is going to be your best worker."
"I just thought athletically, he could absolutely play at that level, and he has proven me right so far," said Domenech, whose son Zach is one of Davliakos' best friends.
Toomey monitored Davliakos for more than a year before recruiting him in his senior year. Only after they shook hands on Davliakos' decision to commit to the Greyhounds did Toomey notice Davliakos' left hand.
Asked if he had any trepidation about honoring his commitment to Davliakos, Toomey replied, "No, because I had seen what I had seen on the field. You recruit players."
Davliakos has been a blessing for Loyola, filling in for senior Ryan Fournier who missed seven games because of a hamstring injury. With junior short-stick defensive midfielder Jared Mintzlaff and Begley, the trio forms one of the top defensive midfields in Division I.
"As you can see on the field, it doesn't affect him at all," Begley said. "He's able to push through and be one of the best LSMs in the conference now."
There are a few activities, such as basketball and rock climbing, that frustrate Davliakos. And on the few occasions when he drops his stick or an opponent knocks it out of his hands, he castigates himself.
But for the most part, Davliakos considers himself fortunate.
"It's not a bad situation," he said. "I'm here, and I have a great opportunity, and I can't let that hold me down. So I just put it in the back of my mind."
John and Peggy Davliakos said they are grateful that Toomey took a chance on their son. They have attended every one of his games and are proud to witness his growth.
"Every game, we are amazed that Zac is where he is at," Peggy Davliakos said. "We have never taken it for granted."
Zac Davliakos has never sought attention, but Toomey said he's an inspiration for others.
"I knew he would be a story because I'm amazed on a daily basis of what he can do," Toomey said. "He's a great kid and a special person."