Hillory Dean took over as head coach at South River this season and vowed to build a soccer program out of sweat and hard work. Unclear then, though, was that Dean -- not his players -- would do most of the sweating.

He challenges players to footraces. He plays goalie during practice. He does jumping jacks on the sideline when he doesn't like the way his team is playing.

The successor to legendary 27-year head coach Greg Carroll, Dean has relied on his energy and enthusiasm to make South River his team. He's also made South River into a good team, as the Seahawks are off to a 3-0 start and are expected to challenge Anne Arundel's usual soccer powers. The team ended last season 10-6.

"He's a lot of fun to play for," senior halfback Matt Sol said. "He challenges us and that's exciting. The way he acts, he gets us so pumped up. It's fun, because he's just so into the game."

In the closing minutes of a 4-1 win over North County last week, Dean seemed to be the only one still interested. Devastated by a lazy pass from a second-string striker, he fell to his knees on the sideline. A few seconds later, he screamed at a player for walking up the field.

With two minutes left, he pulled aside striker Jordan Palmer, one of his best players, and challenged him to score. "That's just what coach is like," said Palmer, who missed two inspired shots in the closing minutes. "He's always challenging us to something. That's how he keeps us motivated."

Like in practice, when he pulls aside one player at a time and challenges him to a race across the field. "He's actually pretty fast," Sol said. "It's kind of embarrassing, because he knocks off a few guys on the team."

Or when he replaces senior goalie Jay Herford in practice and dares his players to score. "Almost everybody gets it past him," Herford said. "He's still not very good at playing in goal."

Dean served as an assistant for five years under Carroll, who had run both the soccer and boys' lacrosse programs at South River since 1978 before retiring at the end of last year. Dean, only the second soccer coach in South River history, is charged with the weighty job of following a coaching fixture.

Yet, somehow, he still manages to act weightless.

"I'm a different person than he is," Dean said. "I'm maybe a little more excitable, things like that. I'd been here, and I knew all the kids, so taking over wasn't that much of a change. My approach is just a little different."

The results, at least so far, are the same. South River, as always, is polished and athletic. Sol is a halfback with great field vision, capable of dishing out a few assists each game. Herford is one of the county's most reliable goalkeepers. Palmer is fast to get to the ball and even quicker to unload it at the goal.

Against North County, the Seahawks' senior-loaded team attacked relentlessly. Using three or four passes to set up opportunities, they fired 21 shots on goal in the second half.

"That's just a typical South River team," North County Coach Greg Helms said. "They're big and athletic. At every single position, they were bigger than us. And they've got all the fundamentals, too."

"I really like where we're headed," Herford said. "We're going to surprise some people, that's for sure. We've got the players and the talent. But the big thing is that this year, we're playing with a lot more energy."

Above, South River's Wesley Harris (6) chases the ball as North County's Brandon Sosnowski also pursues. Below right, senior halfback Matt Sol heads the ball away for South River. Above, Jay Herford makes a save for South River. Below, a rare sight: South River boys' soccer coach Hillory Dean standing still.