Chris Taibi has shown he can be a quick learner.

The Marshall University freshman from Wantagh proved that on the soccer field by scoring his team's first goal of the season.

But first, Taibi agonized over a missed opportunity in the Thundering Herd's season opener, a 2-0 loss to Western Michigan on Aug. 28. With the game still scoreless a few minutes before halftime, Marshall received a free kick. Taibi, recruited as a defender but playing midfield, positioned himself on the left side of the box. The ball sailed his way, and Taibi rose for a header only to see his shot land in the goalkeeper's arms.

Taibi could not stop thinking about it.

"I was really mad about it," he said. "I felt like it was my fault we lost."

But thanks to what coach Bob Gray described as "a tremendous work rate," Taibi impressed Marshall's staff enough in the offseason to earn significant playing time. He has made three straight starts -- all Marshall wins -- after playing 45 minutes in the opener.

So there he was Aug. 30, in overtime of Marshall's second game, against University of Detroit Mercy. The stakes were higher, but the situation was nearly identical: a free kick for Marshall in a scoreless game.

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Taibi positioned himself on the left side of the box. As the ball zipped into the crowd, he rose and smacked it with his head.

This time, the shot evaded the keeper and sent Marshall to its first win.

"He was elated and so was the team," Gray said, "because it was the first goal we scored in the regular season this year."

After he saw his first collegiate goal land safely, Taibi ran to hug his captain, center back Nick Edginton. It was a sign of gratitude for Edginton's advice: "Don't worry about it, have a short memory."

At Wantagh High School, Taibi was the dispatcher of such words. He had been a leader for years. Now, as a college freshman, he finds himself in a new role, evidenced by his taking Edginton's simple advice to heart.

"It's different," Taibi said. "I haven't been in this situation in a while."

Instead of serving as the mentor to younger teammates at Wantagh, Taibi is trying to absorb any tips Marshall's veterans and coaches will impart. He responded to Edginton's advice by scoring a goal, and he embraced the coaching staff's challenge that freshmen typically need time to adjust to the college game's speed and physicality by waking up at 7 a.m. every day during the summer so he could run and hit the gym before practice.

His eagerness to learn and improve have earned him an unforeseen role: a starting, impact freshman.

"He's been a huge, pleasant surprise for us," Gray said. "He has a great future here."