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Griffin makes the most of a move

A midfielder at heart, the Crystal River senior has turned into an outstanding sweeper.

By CAREY FREEMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2002

CRYSTAL RIVER -- Kyle Griffin may be the best defender in the Citrus/Hernando area, but as far as he's concerned, the job is temporary.

With Griffin, you can take the man out of midfield, but you can't take the midfielder out of the man.

"I still consider myself a guy that can go forward," said Griffin, a Crystal River senior. "I can score. You put me up there and I'll get one."

Like it or not, Griffin is a defender now, and one whose abilities at the once-foreign position have many area coaches wishing he would move back to the midfield.

"As far as I'm concerned, there isn't a better sweeper in our conference," said Pirates assistant Steve Ekeli, who coached Griffin for two years on the club level.

"His ability to turn on a dime, stop and re-direct the ball and clear it is unmatched. His first instinct is always the right instinct," Ekeli said. "He has a great nose for the ball, and if you put it in the air, he's going to come down with it every time."

The move to defense was one of necessity.

Griffin had played in the midfield since age 4, but when starter Brian Soluri went down last year with a knee injury, then-Crystal River coach Dave Soluri and Ekeli decided Griffin was the player best-suited to take over at sweeper.

They were not disappointed.

Griffin's athletic ability and on-field smarts allowed him to quickly adjust to the new position. He adjusted so well that he was a Times All-Citrus/Hernando first-team selection at sweeper.

"I didn't even know he played midfield. I always thought he was a sweeper," said Pirates coach Bobby Verlato, a former player (1991-94) who took over last fall for the retired Soluri. "I think he's the best sweeper I've ever seen ... even going back to my years playing here.

"He's always there, and his first touch is always the right one. He's probably one of the most valuable parts of this team. He can score, but having him at sweeper has solidified our defense. And without him, we probably would have lost a lot more games."

As it is, Crystal River has lost only three, and none to district opponents.

Griffin credits a history of athletics in helping him make the adjustment to defense smooth and successful.

"I played defensive back in football, so I've always gone against guys who were bigger than me," the 5-foot-9 Griffin said. "When I'm out there, it's the same thing. If they're bigger than me, I'm still going after them.

"Sweeper is a lot like safety," he said. "You're back there and you kind of walk the field. If something comes through, I clean it up and take them out of the play."

Griffin gets to keep his inner, offensive side happy too.

He has scored four goals, two on penalty kicks, and has four assists.

Though the Pirates rotate on penalty kicks, Griffin is the guy Verlato goes to when the game is on the line.

"He's my first choice," Verlato said. "He's accurate, and he doesn't get fazed by the intensity."

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