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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Fifty points about me turning 50

So not that long ago, I got asked about how I am able to function and how I view life.

Pretty heavy stuff, come to think about it. I gave a basic answer which satisfied the person who asked.

Or so I thought. He kept pressing me on things I missed out on or things you get excited about. So I told him, "I'm sure there are things out there that most people experience and I never will, but that was my choice. And very few things in my life get me excited. I can't even build up enough joy to root for a favorite team anymore because when I became a sportswriter, I saw things through a different window."

In 32 years in this business, I've seen a lot of things through a different prism. My hue is a bit more tinted a specific way than most people's. And that's fine with me.

So as No. 50 rolls in, I figured it'd be best you got to know me through 50 points I've learned about me over this bit of time travel or things I believe in. So here you go.
  • Don't expect me to be your friend that easily. I am not that easy to get along with at first because you need to build your trust with me. I'm that cautious. So I hope you have a world of patience, or else.
  • I'm selfish. Bang! There you go! I'm selfish. I'm about me. I've done so much for so many over the years that I forgot about me. OK, so that's not completely true. I still do the occasional favor for someone if they are kind enough to ask and I know them. But I stopped doing that for the most part.
  • As Howard Stern once famously said, "If you don't agree with me, then I don't like you." Too many poxes out there in this world trying to get under your skin, so I listen to them, shake my head, disagree and if they continue to yell their bloody heads off or continually drone on and on and on and on and on about something, thinking they're going to win the fight, I cut them off like a bartender at 1:45 a.m. You will not be allowed to be a pox in my world due to your own stupidity.
  • You weren't a part of my struggle to succeed in my business. Only the people I worked around get the credit.
  • Oh, yeah -- my work is far more important than anything else. If I ever lose this ability to be at my best at this job, I don't know what I'd be. And that'd be my fault and I'd accept blame.
  • On a similar note ... I do accept blame. Maybe I take the blame too much. But when a relationship fails, it's my fault. When something I write in a story or put on a page is wrong, it's my fault. I'll still have most people's backs if someone messes up and I had something to do with it, even slightly. But I know that person will be responsible quietly (and to me privately) for something they've done wrong.
  • My free time is my free time and I share it with very few people.
  • If you don't communicate with me after I've reached out to you, don't expect me to get back to you anytime in the distant future, let alone the current time, unless I absolutely have to.
  • "Friends" pass in and out of my life rather easily. I've got two very close male friends, yet I rarely speak to them.
  • The moment you fuck up our friendship, that's it. And I can live with that. I spent a number of hours growing up going to the houses of my parents' "friends" who in some cases turned against them, stabbed them in the back, and we had no contact with them after that. So I have plenty of practice. At least I don't have children to inflict that pain on.
  • I don't want to hear a lecture from you on why you think I should be more outgoing and outward. I've done that ... it wasn't beneficial to me and that's not who I am.
  • If you cross me, I cut you. Remember, I have the power to make you into an outcast if I did things for you on a positive level and you turn on me.
  • I believe in karma -- you will get yours in some way in the end if you cut me or cross me.
  • I believe in the good of all people. There's a lot of very good things done by good people out there. You give them a chance and they will shine. Those are the people who are inspiring to me.
  • I like change when change is beneficial to everyone involved. If you change something because it's beneficial to a small amount of people and only suits your needs, you're an asshole.
  • Playing the martyred victim works for a very short time. Then we have to move on.
  • I'm impatient as hell. I want things fixed and done now, now, now! I like my answers now, now now! Good things come to those who wait? When you're building the Taj Mahal, yeah, but not when I need something that can be taken care of immediately. I'm difficult and it's one of my major stumbling points. You don't ever want to be around me when Wifi goes down wherever I am. My cable company hates me.
  • I have a soft spot for babies ... as long as they go home with their parents.
  • I have a soft spot for children ... as long as they don't break stuff up and eventually go home with their parents.
  • I like kids, but don't love them to ever want one. We can be here all day on this one, but I knew as young as 12 years old that I never wanted to be a parent. Parenthood is a treasured lifetime occupation that should not be taken lightly. I can't be a parent 24/7/365. Parenthood is not for everyone. Respect those playing the role who have matters under control.
  • Speaking of which, I can't stand people who say, "I'd be nothing without my kids." Bullshit! You could be something, but you chose not to. In numerous cases, parenthood is the one way you could be something. Translation: Don't ever sell yourself short!
  • Politics, I believe -- no matter if we're absolutely correct about the issues or not -- divides us to a point where we may never have a true compromise among "friends." So if you never talk to me again, I understand. Because it's going to be a while after this past election for me to talk to some of you.
  • I don't bite my tongue very well when it comes to some issues.
  • I work well with others when others work well with me. Then we have a problem when we don't, especially when I try to espouse what wisdom I have and you ignore it.
  • I'll be honest ... I ain't feelin' you sometimes. Stuff happens, I guess.
  • I don't like being defended. If you can't see something I did and why I did it for the betterment of a situation and someone has to come in and explain why I did it to you, you're a complete idiot. If you get mad at me for it, you're a complete asshole.
  • If you do things for me and with me that work in a positive manner, you get my highest respect. If you stay with me, I'll pay back your loyalty in some way. I'm rather big on loyalty. Very few people in my life have, sadly.
  • I really have no zest to see the world beyond our country's borders because there's still so much here I want to see that I may never get to see in my lifetime. I've come to accept that.
  • I can complain all day about the salary I make, but the truth is, I accepted this a long time ago, so I don't. My business doesn't pay very well. I do simply love what I do and this is what I wanted to do in my life once I figured it out in high school.
  • If anyone tells you that we can enjoy things for free by just going places, that's a bullshit lie. Most places I have gone of some "interest" cost money to get into.
  • Beauty is still the greatest "free" thing we have out there. So much surrounds us that is beautiful -- birds, trees, flowers, the sky, whether blue or not. They're still worth the price.
  • The music of 1976 is mountains better than the music of 2016. I feel sorry for the good musicians out there whose music is being weighed down by the horsecrap that's being played on Top 40 radio.
  • As hard as it is for me to do, I never look a gift horse in the mouth. They do have your best interest in mind.
  • I'm cynical. You can tell me something's fool-proof and I'll find the fool that ruins the theory. I'm simply awesome like that. Not everything is what it's supposed to be, so when you tell me it is and you're wrong, I get you on it!
  • Social media has ruined all proper writing. In other words, "I'm soooo not n 2 u!"
  • The best sandwich in the world is a ham, swiss and turkey sandwich on rye bread with tomato, onion and mayonnaise.
  • Peanut butter and jelly is the fiber of what we are all about.
  • A great scented candle makes for the best odor eater in a house or apartment.
  • I'm not that religious a person. I do some (not all) of my Jewish holidays, but that's it. No one should be admonished for being religious, but for God's own sake, stop overpowering me with your beliefs and thoughts on your deity. It's like the girl who I have no interest for -- she simply does nothing for me.
  • If you're constantly arguing with me over the stupidest shit, what the hell are you doing still having an argument with me? Don't you have anything better to do? Again, social media continues to ruin us as people.
  • I do look at some of you on Facebook with your "views" with a tilted head, mouth open and an imaginary balloon over my head with the letters "WTF?" written in it.
  • If I never get married in my life, I won't lose sleep over it. I envisioned being married before turning 40. Now I'm 50. It's far from an issue. My ex-fiancĂ©e told me 10 years ago as she walked out the door, "You couldn't live on your own for more than a year." I've lived on my own for 10 years. She's been married twice since the engagement ended. Who has more of an issue of living alone now, huh?
  • I love pizza. I'm not so sure I love what it does to my waistline.
  • In 2013, I did a self-test to know if I had hyperthymesia to know if I have an autobiographical memory, something actress Marilu Henner has that makes you remember not only what you did a certain day in your life, but you can remember intimate details about it and what day of the week it was. I found I did not have it, but I scored very close to having it. So I take it whatever way I want.
  • I have trust issues that most women have for men and men have for women. In the last 10 years, I ruined a lot of potential relationships because I couldn't make that commitment to put my heart into that relationship. Still clouds any potential relationship I will ever have again.
  • "Love" is something I've never truly understood and being "in" love is something I don't even embrace nor do I even bother to understand that phrase anymore. You can't force it on yourself to someone who may be in love with you to say it back if you can't feel it. To me, the phrase "I love you" is just so damn hollow when I say it. No one is deserving of that.
  • I'm learning every day to appreciate millennials a little more. It's a slow process.
  • It didn't mean anything to me when I turned 30. It didn't mean anything when I turned 40. But now at 50, it means a hell of a lot more. There may not be a 60 in my future. I understand this.
  • I really don't care what you think a lot of times. So if you hate me, want to unfriend me, quietly slip out of my life in the middle of the night, that's fine. I promise to get over it quickly. As I've said numerous times, I came into this world without a friend, I can easily leave it without one and an empty funeral. Ain't no one gonna miss me.
  • Finally, I think about my own mortality every day. At least once a day. You can't help it. Do I have five good years left, maybe 10? Will I be lucky to squeeze 20 more years? None of us know when our time is done and over with and I suspect some of my "friends" will not make it to the other end of the decade. It's not mean thinking, it's just reality. So do what you want to do every day, even if it's the smallest of things. There's no unlimited number to what you want to do and no one's wearing a stopwatch to tell you when it's time to put the things you love and enjoy down. So make it a very good or even a great day each and every day, regardless of the circumstances. You don't ever get that day back.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

"Guess Ocean County College is going to the nationals this year"


If you ever attended Ocean County College and you knew the sports scene fairly well, you knew within a nanosecond that the "rival" school resided in the county above at Brookdale Community College.

And there was no question that when it came to that rivalry, there was no rivalry in some sports.

That included softball. No matter who coached at OCC, the Vikings were always second-best to the Blues, who became more of a national power in the rankings because of coach Bo Scannapieco. The man knew his stuff, and success leads to good players coming aboard to help the program. He rightfully established a power at Brookdale by the early 1990s. Not many teams could beat them and, soon, the Blues were going off to the Division III JUCO national tournament (Division III is for non-scholarship players, so a coach has to be a great schmoozer to bring players into the fold).

OCC, too, had a great schmoozer as coach. He was Dick Strada, one of the most colorful and enjoyable people I have ever known in my 30-plus years of sports journalism. Need something from him, he could get that to you in an instant. Had him for one semester as a teacher. Brilliant time I had learning from him. He coached OCC's ice hockey and was Toms River High School East's first ice hockey coach. I never got to cover his Viking teams playing hockey, but I got to cover East in hockey, especially in his best year with the program, 1988-89.

Dick Strada had a way of answering a question. You ask it, he'd take a moment to formulate the answer, then in a soft-spoken manner, he'd come up with something that was both relevant and sarcastic.

In other words, he was an absolute joy for a young reporter.

But when OCC's athletic department ended the hockey program in 1989 when few teams played the sport then, Strada needed another outlet beside East's hockey team. So when the head softball coaching job opened after Joe Riccio stepped down in 1989, he took it on. And though the Vikings were good, they were nowhere near as good as what Scannapieco put together at Brookdale. They were a penthouse compared to OCC's nice townhouse.

Then things changed in 1991 when Ocean County had one of its greatest softball seasons ever. Most of that talent would go off to play college somewhere else, but before they did that, they took on a group of college players in a charity all-star game in July 1991 in Lavallette and the high school players killed the college players in that game, the college team coached by Strada.

Scannapieco was able to get some of that Ocean County talent to wander toward him at Brookdale, recruiting Lakewood High's talented duo of shortstop Addie Dix and center fielder Jen Cranley and standout Brick High pitcher Viki Kara along with Green Dragon teammate Kerry LaPlata. Teamed with some talented Monmouth County players, Brookdale was once again a force for the next couple of seasons.

But something happened before the 1993 season. OCC, which had been building a decent program under Strada, suddenly brought in key cogs. One was Lacey High catcher Silvia Cacoilo, a first-team all-county player.  Strada was also able to make Cacoilo, who could play any position if need be, an outfielder. Then they brought in a talented shortstop in Joie-lin Scott from Brick Memorial High. And they got a nice gift that year when two standout players from that Class of '91 transferred in, Kelly Arnold, who had gone to a small school that wasn't her fit, and Heather Richards, who moved back to Ocean County after one year at the University of Delaware.

Richards pitched Toms River North to a huge 1991 season, including championship game spots in the Ocean County and NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV tournaments. Arnold was a first-team All-State catcher from Toms River East, who had to do a whole bunch of everything when the Raiders were just 5-19 in '91.

Now Strada had a credible catcher and a credible pitcher. And that could be trouble for any opponent ... even big, bad Brookdale.

But before the season began, Strada had an immediate issue -- Cacoilo was having trouble with her college courses and was razor-thin close to being declared academically ineligible. But as Cacoilo would put it herself, "All those extra hours of tutoring paid off. I had to take so many tests just to make up the grade."

And it so happens that Brookdale was right there on OCC's schedule for the third game of the season. The Vikings had won their first two games, and that was a game talked about among Vikings players, including the new players, since the schedule had been revealed.

However, one thing was getting in the way of this matchup for Tuesday, March 30, 1993 -- the weather. For three days, it had rained practically non-stop and that was after our part of the country had recovered from an ugly Nor'easter. Just two days earlier in the awful, rainy weather, my mom and I attended the funeral of one of my high school friends, murdered at his job in cold blood.

On this particular Tuesday -- yup, you got it ... rain. But there was a window in the forecast that the rain was going to stop and stop long enough to drain out whatever was still remaining on Brookdale's field. The game started at 3:30, but it wasn't until noon when the final verdict had come down to play the game.

Having to rent a car at this point because of an accident to the bottom of my car that put a hole in a part of it and not seeing it for a week, my rental and I got to Lincroft safely to Brookdale's field. I parked in a spot beyond the outfield, so I walked in from there, grabbed my lineups for both teams and sat in the stands on the OCC side.

That's when I heard about the "incentive" the Viking players had going into this game from Strada. He happened to have a copy of the Star-Ledger with him. In a story involving Brookdale's team, Scannapieco proudly touted his team, saying that if a team is better than his, "they're going to nationals because this is the best team we've ever had here."

These Lady Vikings were going to do all they can to take this man to task, a man they were far from fond of, as well as Strada, who is as down to earth as you will ever meet in a person.

But to do that, they had to break Kara. A Kara-Richards matchup was a big thing in 1991 -- they met each other four times that season and Kara beat Richards and the Mariners three times, including the Ocean County championship game, 9-2.

The Vikings had an early threat against Kara, loading the bases with two outs. But Kara wriggled out of it with a forceout.

Then came the third inning. A half-inning after Richards had nailed Kara with a pitch, Kara nailed Richards with a pitch to start the inning. A wild pitch moved Richards to second, but Kara got her composure under her by striking out Scott and Arnold. Two outs and it left it up to cleanup hitter Cacoilo. Kara threw an outside pitch to Cacoilo, who in all her years of high school ball had never faced her before.

Turns out Cacoilo liked outside pitches ... a lot! She took the offering to right field for a base hit. Strada sent Richards home and the Vikings had a 1-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Richards continued to handle her work in the circle the way she handled it while she was the Mariners' standout pitcher at North -- businesslike without any gestures. She loved having close friend Kim Niedzwicki behind the play at North for two years, but she had a calm presence behind the plate in the confident Arnold, one of the best catchers I've ever seen play the position.

The Vikings kept it at 1-0 going to the bottom of the fourth when the Blues put on a rally. Karyn Ippolito and Deana Ivanicki both singled with one out, and once again, Richards had to face her opposite number, Kara. She got the count to 2-2, then got her to chase a bad pitch for strike three. It left it up to Terry Johnson. Once again at two strikes, Richards had Johnson chase a pitch she should not have been chasing.

Strike three. Inning over.

Viking players were pumped, but Richards had to reassure them they still had three more innings left.

That's because Kara wasn't allowing the Vikings a whole lot either. In the top of the fifth, though, the Vikings threatened to put the game away. Arnold reached on a walk and that brought up Cacoilo, who was 2-for-2 at this point against Kara. Another outside pitch and Cacoilo roped it to the right-center field gap. Arnold was legging it out as best as she can and Strada was not afraid to send her home. It took two fantastic throws, the first one to Dix, now the Blues' second baseman, and the second one from Dix to catcher Marya Moore, to nail Arnold and keep it a 1-0 game.

Meanwhile, Richards kept the Blues down and off the scoreboard. In the bottom of the sixth, the Blues had another rally with runners on first and second and two outs. And, again, Richards went to what worked for her, getting Johnson out on strikes for the third time in the game to end the inning.

Scannapieco, meanwhile, kept his cool in what was a truly tremendous game. One more inning. Something could happen.

And it did.

Rene Haskamp, one of Richards' North teammates who was in her second year with the program, started the inning by getting hit by Kara. Back to the top of the lineup where Richards, too, was plunked by Kara, her third hit batsmen of the game. Kara's wildness continued when she walked Scott to load the bases.

Kara settled in to strike out Arnold for the third time this day. But who was it coming up next? Yup, Cacoilo. By now, Scannapieco was on to Cacoilo, so he shaded his outfield toward right, but keeping the infield in their normal spots. This was huge because this time, Cacoilo hit a rocket just past Kara and into center field for a base hit, easily scoring Haskamp. But when Cranley had issues picking up the ball on a somewhat wet field for an error, Richards scored.

It was 3-0, more than enough for Richards to seal the deal in the bottom of the inning.

These ladies from OCC were fired up more going into the last frame. Richards got one out, but Moore reached on an error and Cranley singled. Dix walked to load the bases. And Ippolito, one of Brookdale's biggest threats, came to the plate. She got a hold of Richards pitch and belted it to right field. Cacoilo kept chasing it back and finally settled under it, catching it for the mere sacrifice fly to give Brookdale its first run.

But the Blues were down to one out, and Richards induced Terry Patterson into a flyball to none other than the star of the show on this dreary Tuesday afternoon. Cacoilo secured the flyball out and Vikings players celebrated the 3-1 win as if they just won Game 7 of the World Series.

Not to knock the importance of the game. It was Strada's first-ever win over Brookdale and it was the Vikings' first win over Brookdale in a long, long time. The players gave Strada a Gatorade water bath afterward.

Kara finished the game by scattering seven hits – four of those by Cacoilo – and struck out 10 Vikings. But she was out-dueled by Richards in one of the best performances I ever saw her pitch. Richards scattered five hits, walked four and struck out seven and delivered grace under pressure a number of times.

Seizing on the opportunity to talk about the quote by Brookdale's coach, Richards said afterward, "I think he underestimated us. I think he figured, 'Oh yeah, Ocean County. Who cares if they have a couple of good players?' I think we proved we're a clutch team and we can hit off of good pitching. And I think he spoke a little too soon."

Brookdale's players and coaches disappeared pretty quickly after that loss. OCC players and Strada celebrated before the lights got turned out and they headed back to Toms River.

For one shining moment, though, OCC had the better of Brookdale with some of the best players I ever saw play battling it out on Brookdale's field. And as I pointed out in my lead when I pointed out Scannapieco's original comment in the Star-Ledger, my next line was much-needed.

"Guess Ocean County College is going to the nationals this year."

"I was nervous. I thought I was going to start biting on my sleeve," Strada admitted afterward. "Brookdale has been the nemesis, the team to beat, and we finally did it."

The Vikings did have a nice season under Strada, but not good enough to play in the nationals, though. Brookdale continues to have a dominant program under Scannapieco all these years later. Kudos for continuing what he started, kind of like Geno Auriemma with the UConn women's basketball program.

But I always go back to that Tuesday afternoon in late March 1993. Because it was that day, the rivalry really did have meaning.



Friday, January 27, 2017

Why he made soccer a "beautiful game"

They call soccer the "beautiful game." There are times when I have no understanding as to why they call it that. Many times, I'd cover a high school soccer match and it was a push-fest, tackle-fest, kick-the-ball-out-of-bounds-or-all-over-the-freakin'-complex-fest. Far from beautiful in my opinion.

But there are certain players I've come across in over 30 years that define this sport as the "beautiful game." I had thought in all my years of covering the sport at the Jersey Shore I had seen it from such players as Rob Johnson of Jackson Memorial or Ted Gillen of Toms River East or Kim Yankowski, Jennifer Shutt or Christie Pearce from Point Pleasant Boro High School, players who made playing the sport look awfully easy no matter what position they played.

That's when Veit Couturier came along. It was the winter of 2009-10 and the German-born young man was a foreign exchange student that year. He could have chosen a number of places to go.

He chose Crescent City, Florida. Florida was a part of the name of where he was going. Crescent City isn't anything like what you see in the tourist's guide of the state. They call Crescent City the "Bass Capital Of The World." I wasn't sure how much the young man liked to fish. Crescent City, located in southern Putnam County, is a sleepy little hollow of farm area and lakes.

Yeah ... so not in the tour book of the state highlights. But he adapted well to the small town and had an awesome host family whose kids were going to Crescent City Junior-Senior High School, so at least he knew people who could connect him with others.

Well that winter, he went out for the Raiders' boys soccer team. It was an interesting mix of players to say the least -- this 6-foot-2, hulking presence from Germany connecting with talented players from Hispanic and Mexican families. They connected in a big way, too. In their first year together, the Raiders won the District 4-3A championship, their first district title in five years, when they beat rival Keystone Heights, 1-0, at Keystone Heights High on a first-half headball goal by Couturier, one of a county-boys record 35 goals he scored that season.

Most people figured that like every other foreign exchange student, Couturier was one and done.

But a funny thing happened -- turns out this young man with the steel blue eyes and male model looks waived his right to return home and finish his schooling here. He loved Crescent City and the school that much!

And so with most of the pieces back from that championship team, it was expected that the Raiders were going to be the favorite to win the district title again. The Raiders rolled through the regular season without much issue, going 13-1-2, and Couturier setting the overall county record for goals in a season, which was previously held by Interlachen High girls player Alana Christian of 39 two years earlier.

So happens that the District 4-3A tournament was being held this winter on Crescent City's field. The Raiders aided their own cause by claiming the top seed in the tournament. They drew a bye, then got to host West Nassau High School of Callahan.

They didn't disappoint. But it was bizarre -- the Raiders won handily to move to the final with Couturier scoring four goals to give him 46 for the season. But the bizarre part was how many of these young men who played for West Nassau High, which sent a baseball player to the Major Leagues in Howie Kendrick years earlier, wanted to take pictures with Couturier afterward. I'm not kidding -- they wanted to pose in selfies or on camera chip cards with the Raiders' main player as if he was going to be next seen as a member of Germany's 2014 World Cup team. Even the coach wanted to pose with him.

Earlier in the night, Keystone Heights, who was the third seed, advanced to the final with an overtime goal against Alachua Santa Fe. For Keystone coach Trevor Waters, this was an amazing win. He didn't expect this team to be playing in the state tournament, but because of that win, they were going to be doing that regardless of how they would do in the final against Crescent City. The winner and loser of district tournament finals automatically advances to the state tournament.

Waters had a young team -- he was starting six freshmen, including goalkeeper Eric Wood, as well as two eighth-graders. The Indians managed to carve out a 10-6-5 record with that young team, though, a credit to the youth programs that bring Waters ready-made players. Everything at this point was going to be icing. But even Waters knew beforehand it was going to take a Herculean effort to stop Couturier and the rest of coach John Thomas' Raiders. This team was arguably Thomas' best in his 17 years running the program.

A win was expected in the championship game, set for Friday, January 28, 2011.

But no one expected what was to happen next.

I rolled up into the parking lot at Crescent City Junior-High just as the game had started. Usually, you can get away with doing that minutes after the kickoff. But the Raiders had already gotten the ball into Indians territory. Antonio Perez was fighting hard to keep the ball away from a pesky Indians defender. Then with a little room, he put a high ball into the box.

In what was to be the moment of the night, Couturier rose among the players as high as he could and slammed a perfect headball over a defender who was more in the way than he was trying to defend and past Wood for a 1-0 lead just 1:57 into the game.

I had barely shown my press credential and started walking toward the net when I witnessed all that happening.

From that moment, I knew Keystone Heights was in trouble. I can hear Waters' high-pitched voice yelling his players to go at it harder than they already had and the game was not even two minutes in.

It was only going to get worse. At 5:23 into the match, a Raiders player delivered a shot on net. Wood made the save, but couldn't grab the ball. Couturier did, and slipped a shot past his defender and the goalie making it 2-0.

Those first two goals were workmanlike, blue-collar, get-dirty goals. The next goal was about to be a piece of poetry. Couturier collected the ball near the midfield line, put two moves on defenders that were wondering where he went, and Wood suddenly found himself without much back-line protection. His 15-yarder never had a chance for Wood to make a play on it.

Just 7:40 into the game, it was 3-0.

For the next 13 minutes, the teams ramped it up with the Indians trying to put an intimidating and physical presence on the other nine field players the Raiders had since they couldn't do anything against Couturier. They couldn't catch him and he was just too big for them. The Indians may have had one player taller than 6-foot. The rest of them had no shot at doing anything with the Raiders' star.

Just after the water break the teams took at the midway point of the half, Michael Quintana put a pass through Keystone Heights' box that no one could get a hold of with foot or head. One player did, though -- yeah, him again. He one-timed a shot from about 10 yards that Wood couldn't reach.

Twenty minutes and 32 seconds into the match, Couturier was leading the Indians by his lonesome, 4-0.

By now, you could see the look on Waters' face. He knew it was over and that for one time, his talented team was "just happy to be there."

For the next few minutes, Couturier was trying what he could to help set up his own teammates for scores, passing up on obvious goal opportunities. Problem was that as good as his teammates were, they weren't on the same level with him. It was a little frustrating.

So at the 28:20 mark, things went back to where they were before as Ellio Robles, a junior, put a shot into the box that found Couturier. He blasted his shot by a helpless Wood and it was 5-0.

The only highlight of the night for the Indians came just as time ran down in the first half. Trey Bland, the other and forgotten top scorer in this game, took a rebound off goalie Oriel Jaramillo and poked a shot into the net for his 28th goal of the season, giving the Indians a good feeling going into halftime, but still down 5-1.

Waters did everything he could to praise his team for not quitting and getting that goal late. He was encouraging them to just keep fighting, keep battling and more good things would come. At the other end, Thomas and new assistant coach Jeff Lease were calmly talking to the players about not letting up and doing what they had done in the first half. They knew they had this game won, but the matter now turned to getting back to what they had started in the first half and finishing it out emphatically.

It was only one half, but that was the single, most amazing piece of work I've ever seen a soccer player accomplish on a field. Five goals on a minimal amount of shots taken.

You could see as the second half started the Indians doing all they could in an attempt to cut off any more dramatics from the German exchange student. Then again, he didn't really have plans to do a lot of the work by himself.

Smartly, the other Raiders stepped up with Keystone Heights doing everything they could to keep Couturier off limits from the ball. And when there was that opening, Couturier grabbed the ball at his feet and put himself in a position to score.

In this one instance, though, he got tripped up in the box. That constitutes a penalty kick. But Couturier was not called upon to do the honors -- that was left to teammate Reymundo Hernandez. He nailed his shot past Wood at the 49:55 mark to build the lead to 6-1.

For the next 13 minutes, the game remained equal as the Indians tried to build a threat against the Raiders' defense. They got their one corner kick of the night, but that got turned away. Then after a foul call against a Keystone Heights player, Jaramillo made some magic of his own. After the players cleared the goalie, Jaramillo boomed a kick toward midfield.

Couturier just happened to be there with a defender in front of him and one behind him. He won the battle for the ball, then beat that defender behind him and the one after him who tried to make a stop on him. That left Wood, who was by now seeing him in his nightmares long before he ever closed his eyes for the night. There was not much Wood could do as before he could make a move out on the ball, Couturier launched a rocket shot past him for his sixth goal of the night at the 63:47 mark to give the Raiders a 7-1 lead.

Four minutes later, Couturier finally was able to help someone else score as he provided the pass to Luis Gonzalez for a short-shot goal to make it 8-1 at the 67:18 mark.

By now, it was inevitable that the Raiders would finish out the victory via the eight-goal mercy rule. It was a matter of how quickly it would happen.

That part would take five minutes. This time, it was Perez, the young man who provided the high ball just two minutes into the match that led to Couturier's first goal, that would finish it. He placed a perfect pass in the box that Couturier collected. With an opening to take a shot, he launched a 12-yarder to Wood's left and inside the far post at 72:32.

And it was over. Crescent City 9, Keystone Heights 1, the game stopped on the mercy rule. The Raiders were dominant in every possible manner, out-shooting the Indians, 25-5. Wood would finish with nine saves to his credit, but that only glossed over the shell-shocked look he walked off the field with after the game.

The Indians players and Waters gave Couturier lots of love afterward and wished the Raiders on in their state tournament opener at home with Jacksonville Episcopal. The Indians couldn't stop the star attraction. They couldn't even contain him.

To this day, the seven-goal, one-assist night is still the greatest performance I've ever witnessed on a soccer field. To those who came down to Crescent City that night to watch this mastery of the game by one player, they came away with memories for a lifetime.

By the time the game had ended, Couturier went from 46 goals on the season to 53.

In modest critique of himself, Couturier downplayed his own performance, saying afterward, "It was not perfect, but it was still a great game. I can't say more about how great my teammates were. As I've said before, we win as a team, we lose as a team."

And that had been his credo all season. He couldn't have scored all 53 of those goals by himself and not without great teammates.

After the game, Waters was stoic, saying, "(Couturier) is an awesome player ... in a league of his own. With our young guys, we have no one who could body him up. We have a bright future, but tonight belonged to Crescent City."

This game, though, would be the last winning moment for Couturier. In the state tournament opener at home, a classy and more talented Episcopal team ran up and down, over and under and back and forth around Couturier and his teammates in a 5-0 victory.

He was in Putnam County for two years, but his smoothly dominant style of play and 88 goals scored along with back-to-back district crowns has made Couturier a legend and still the greatest player to ever grace a soccer player in county history, boy or girl.

There was one other thing that Couturier left behind as he graduated from Crescent City that late spring -- the confidence he gave to his teammates to win as well. The next two years, the Raiders would win their third and fourth straight district championships, both against regional rival Pierson Taylor, the first 1-0 in 2012 on a Robles direct kick from 25 yards away with less than four minutes left in the match, then 3-1 behind 35-goal scorer John Spence in 2013. And for the first time in program history, the Raiders won state tournament matches in those two years after Couturier graduated, beating Gainesville P.K. Yonge in 2012, then beating those vaunted Keystone Heights Indians in 2013. But both times after those wins, the Raiders fell in the regional semifinal round against those Pierson Taylor Wildcats who lost to them in district championship matches.

As for Veit Couturier, he got to play college ball in Daytona Beach at Embry-Riddle University and would play semi-pro ball. And do you remember when I mentioned above about how he has those steel-blue eyes and the male-model looks? Well, guess what he did after he graduated college?

Yeah, Veit Couturier did modelling work. Darn good, too. No wonder why any young lady who saw him play soccer in Putnam County got lock-jawed when they had to describe him.

He was too good to be true. I gained a friend for life in this young man, who I knew was bred for success in whatever he wanted to do.

In more ways than one -- and not just from that late January night in 2011 -- Veit Couturier showed why soccer really is "the beautful game."