Jake Giuffrida was trying real hard not to smile.
But when it's the middle of the season and you're about to be named captain of the defending state champions . . . well, let's just say it's not easy to hide emotions.
"I somehow kept a straight face despite how happy I was in the inside,'' said Giuffrida, a senior defender on St. Anthony's boys soccer team. "It meant quite a lot to me.''
During a practice in early October, after the Friars had dropped games to rivals St. John the Baptist and Chaminade, assistant coach Don Corrao made the announcement: Giuffrida would join seniors T.J. Butzke and Beau Hornberger as captains of a Friars team that was chasing a second straight state championship.
"As the season progressed, Jake's leadership without the badge was evident every day,'' Corrao said. "He proved he didn't have to have it. When I weighed everything, it was the right thing to do.''
That's hard to argue.
Before the start of the season, the plan was to have Giuffrida, Butzke and Hornberger play as midfielders and junior Ryan Gonclaves start as the team's center defender. After a couple of practices, though, Giuffrida was concerned. He didn't think the formation was working out so well.
So he approached Corrao during a preseason practice and asked to be switched.
"Ryan didn't look comfortable and he's a much better central midfielder than I am anyway,'' Giuffrida said.
Twenty minutes later, the switch was made. The players were never switched back.
"It was obvious how good Jake was because of how many shots we limited,'' Corrao said.
Giuffrida, humble to a fault, said when asked about his defensive prowess: "I think the guys around me were just as good, if not better.''
The rest of the Friars' back line was composed of Costas Efstathiou, Ryan Healy, John Reilly, Joe Leonardi and Brian Flynn. Hornberger, who is committed to Marist, dominated when necessary.
The switch also worked offensively. Gonclaves, Butzke and forward Chase Gurcan (14 goals) worked well together.
After the loss to St. John the Baptist, St. Anthony's outscored its opponents 40-7 in nine games.
"An emotional spark was set off after those losses,'' Hornberger said. "We came into the playoffs as underdogs, having never experienced losing to those teams. It motivated us.''
Butzke, who is headed to Boston University, played his best soccer during the playoffs. He sent the Friars into the state final when he nailed a shot from the top of the box that landed in the right corner of the net in the third minute of overtime against St. Joseph's.
"That,'' Butzke said, "was a special feeling.''
It was somewhat short-lived. Although it was not known until a couple of weeks later, Giuffrida suffered a broken ankle in that game. Initial MRI results showed up negative, but Giuffrida walked with a limp. In the afternoon before the state championship, Giuffrida received four hours of treatment and was allowed to play.
The Friars captured back-to-back championships for the first time in the program's history. Coach Gene Buonaiuto got his 400th win. Giuffrida and Hornberger led a defensive unit that was just good enough in a 4-2 win against Fordham Prep.
"Jake was the unsung hero,'' Corrao said. "What this guy did . . . It's a great story. He's a big reason why we were state champions. Our captains were special this season.''
All three of them.