Mount Hebron senior midfielder Eric Shadoff is easy to find on the field.
"He's that crazy person running all over the place," Coach Mike Linsenmeyer said. "He's chasing the ball wherever it goes and never stops. He's the hardest-working kid you'll see out there."
Shadoff has made a good impression at Mount Hebron after transferring from McDonogh School in Owings Mills, where he led the Eagles to the final of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference soccer tournament in each of the past three seasons.
Shadoff, who scored 11 goals last season in one of the state's most competitive leagues, has made a smooth transition to the Vikings' roster. He has a goal and four assists for Mount Hebron, which entered the week 5-0-1, its best start since 2000, when it won the 2A state title.
"When I heard that Eric was coming to Mount Hebron, I was happy and told everyone on our team that he was a good guy and a good player so he could fit right in," said senior midfielder Robbie Carper, who plays club soccer with Shadoff. "I knew he would be big for us."
Shadoff plays alongside Carper in a two-center midfielder system. Mount Hebron channels its attack through the middle of the field with short passes, a contrast to other Howard County teams -- including two-time defending 3A champion River Hill -- which uses speed to beat defenses with long passes.
"He's probably the best player in the county," River Hill Coach Bill Stara said of Shadoff. "He's a good all-around player and is a big-time player every team needs. He gives Mount Hebron a valuable piece they need."
Shadoff is methodical on the field. He uses his 5-foot-8, 150-pound frame to shield the ball from an opponent and, with a flick of his foot, spins past his defender. He can read the defense almost instantly and deliver a pass to a teammate in scoring position.
"A lot of what we do starts in the center of the field where Eric and Robbie are," Linsenmeyer said.
Shadoff changes direction effortlessly, maintaining possession even when he's shouldered by defenders.
"Snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding; that's helped my balance a lot," he said. "I do a lot of adventure sports, and to be good, you have to be able to balance or you'll fall."
But Shadoff's first love is soccer, since age 4.
"I played soccer before I could spell it," he said. He grew up playing with older children and had to develop ball skills to compete with bigger, faster players.
"There are two things that come to mind when I think about Eric growing up," said Ron Shadoff, Eric's dad. "When he was 7 years old playing on an under-10 team, he scored a goal to win some tournament he was in. The other was when he was 10, and he got knocked down but stayed in the game. After the game, he needed 14 stitches to close the gash in the top of his head. He had long, moppy hair at the time, so I guess it soaked up the blood, and the referee didn't see it because he would have had to come out of the game if [the referee] saw it."
Shadoff's desire to win extends to the practice field, as Linsenmeyer noticed the team's newest player had to finish first in every drill during practice.
"We'd be playing six-on-six or we'd have drills where players would go one-on-one, and Eric couldn't stand to lose. He had to win," Linsenmeyer said. "He's got this desire that he has to win at everything he does, and that's the kind of player you want on your team."
Though Shadoff has won championships on the club level, he hasn't earned one on the varsity level. Each of his first three seasons ended with a loss in the championship game.
Mount Hebron is used to being the second-best team in its league. The Vikings have been dealt season-ending defeats by River Hill in each of the past two 3A East Region tournaments, including a 4-0 loss the region semifinals last year.
"Every year, we are getting closer and closer to getting past River Hill, and our goals are high again this year," Linsenmeyer said. "I think we have a good system, and our players believe in it, but we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do see if we can live up to our potential."