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Warhawks' leadership right on time


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2003

SEMINOLE -- Coach Rick Masi told Corey Ahern to be a silent leader. It was a strange charge for the player he nicknamed "Sweetlips" because of how much he talked.

Masi also wanted Ahern to be one of Seminole's captains, but didn't know if his senior center-midfielder could make it to practice on time because of an after-school shift at a sporting goods store that kept Ahern until 6p.m., the same time practice started. Being late wasn't the kind of example Masi wanted to set for his team.

The possibility of being tardy aside, the play and attitude of Ahern, 17, was exactly what Masi wanted the Warhawks to emulate. It rallied Seminole through a long season that ended with a state title.

"He's the one on the team all the players look up to," Masi said of the co-captain, who arranged to leave work early in time for practice. "He's always the one driving his teammates."

Ahern didn't lead the Warhawks in goals. He didn't even get a chance to shoot a penalty kick in Seminole's overtime victory in the Class 3A title game earlier this month against Tallahassee Leon. But without Ahern controlling the field, winning balls and flustering offenses, the Warhawks wouldn't have been in that situation.

"Corey's our playmaker," Masi said. "He's like the inspiration on the team. He has that desire and that's contagious."

If Ahern was off, the Warhawks were off, and that put a lot of responsibility on his shoulders during a tumultuous season. But it was a situation Ahern, who finished with 14 goals, was aware of. Seminole didn't rely on him to score, but to command the field.

"My job was to control everything. To make sure we don't lose," Ahern said.

Ahern has always had the confidence, but coming up through the Largo United Soccer Club since he was 11, he recognized he wasn't the fastest kid on the field. He ran with a friend, Pinellas Park senior Nathan Bender, who pushed him to get faster. And he said he also tried to develop a better understanding of the game by watching as much soccer as he could.

While it didn't take Masi long to name Ahern co-captain along with senior Drew Greenfield, Ahern said with or without the title he would have acted like one anyway.

Ahern doesn't know what the future holds, but he knows he'd like soccer to be a part of it. He had a tryout at Saint Leo University last week and is waiting to hear back from the coaches.

"I just want to play soccer for the rest of my life," Ahern said.

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