Eric Heller remembers well the morning after his operation last June for a deviated septum, the result of a broken nose suffered in a preseason Montgomery College soccer game last year.
"When I woke up, I was in bad shape. I had two black eyes and I felt like a truck had hit me," said the 19-year-old sophomore at the Rockville campus. "I had to wear an aluminum mask for a month; I felt like a mummy or something. If you tap on my nose now, it's still sore. I know if I got hit there again it would break with no problem."
Heller's nose was broken for more than nine months before it was discovered.
He had been kicked in the face diving for a ball in a game against Prince George's Community College. Doctors at first said the nose was all right, and only after Heller experienced breathing problems months later did he go to a specialist, who ordered the surgery.
Heller played that entire fall season with the broken nose, leading his team in scoring with 11 goals as the Knights posted a 10-3 record. He scored 12 goals in his first five games this year and currently leads Washington area collegiate players with 16 goals and seven assists for 23 points.
While a broken nose did not stop Heller, other injuries have finally cut into his playing time. He suffered a bruised foot and hamstring pull just before the Knights met Top-ranked Mercy College of Trenton, N.J., Sept. 30, and last week he sprained his hand in a 3-0 win over Community College of Baltimore. He is also playing with sore ribs.
Despite the injuries, Heller, a center forward, scored twice in a 4-4 tie against Harford CC, Oct. 9, and once against Baltimore. He is now within three goals of the school record of 19 set in 1971 by Dino Miltindou Mont-Rock now 8-2-1 and 14th-ranked among junior colleges nationally, has two games within the state left.
With records and possible national attention ahead, the 5-foot-6, 125-pound graduate of Sherwood High School is hoping the exposure will serve a purpose.
"I want to score a lot of goals," he said. "I'm looking for a scholarship (to a four-year college), so I have to score a lot. Most of all I'd like to go to the nationals, but to get there I have to score, so it kind of goes hand in foot.
"My main job is to put the ball in the net. If I don't score, I fell I've let the team down."
Heller knows what a letdown can be like. After tying the unofficial Montgomery County high school record with 29 goals as a senior at Sherwood, the college offers did not pan out as Heller had hoped.
"Evidently, the (college scouts) looked at his size and the fact that he played at a Class B school and thought he still wasn't good enough ," said Mont-Rock Coach Tom Bichy. "I think a lot of coaches and players wrote him off too soon."
Heller opted for the local junior college, although, he says, "I really didn't want to go to MC. I was thingking with 29 goals my senior year that someone would want to give me a scholarship.
"But MC isn't a bad school at all. It's got a good academic program and Mr. Bichy has an excellent coaching philosophy and built up a winning tradition. I figure when I leave here, I'll be set both academically and on the soccer field."
Heller, a physical education major on a work-study program, wans't always this happy about his life at Montgomery. His freshman year, he was moved by Bichy to wing, a position Heller was not especially thrilled about after serving as centerpiece of Sherwood's state champion attack. The team record was 15-0 in 19779
"I didn't like It at first but I didn't complain. I just went out there and got used to it," he said. "At wing you're kind of restricted to your area and you have to create a lot of opportunities for yourself. At striker, you have more freedom to roam from side to side."
Heller, a second-team All-State selection last season, was moved back to the center this season and he responded with four goals in his first game. His size, Heller says, is more of an advantage than a disadvantage.
"I've always thought of it that way," Heller said "I love to play against big fullbacks because they're usually slower and I can get by them. The only trouble I get into is in a crowd on corner kicks. I'd be lost on a head ball, so I might step away from the goal and wait for the garbage to come out."
"He's got the reputation now of beging a goal scorer -- a true striker," Bichy said, "If he can get really good players alongside him -- even better than the ones we have now -- he'd really be explosive. If someone doesn't recongnize this, I think they're missing the boat."
The Knights, who outscored their opponents, 41-8 in their first nine games, are combining a quick-tempo pace with ball control.
Heller gives credit to his midfielders -- Roeger Hogan (Wheaton High), Doug Howland (Wilson) and Chip Russell, a classmate from Sherwood -- for providing many of his scoring opportunities.
An avid statistician, Heller calculates he has scored 249 goals in 200 games since he was in ninth grade. The last 16, at least have been dedicated to girlfriend Rosemary Mathias, a center forward on the Holy Names Academy girls scoccer team.
Montgomery-Rockville, which was fifth-ranked early this this season, knows a healthy Heller improves its chances of postseason play. Before his leg injuries, the Knights were 5-0. During his recovery, they have logged a 3-3-1 mark and slipped from the top 10. Heller has played, but at less than 100 percent, during that stretch.
"I think Eric has made a turnaround in his game," said Bichy, a 12-year coach whose team finished fourth nationally in 1977. "Over the summer, he was drawing defenders and then giving the ball to somebody else to score. Nobody can mark him as it is, and this has made him even more effective. I think he's maturing as a player."
And perhaps there may be all America honors, as well. Heller is very much aware of the attention a goal-scorer gets. The Silver Spring native only hopes it will pay off with a big-time college scholarship. From there, a young man's dreams often turn a professioanl ball. Heller's do, too. t
"That's my biggest goal," Heller said. "It's important I pick the right four-year school so I can be reconized and get drafted. I haven't decided where I'd like to go to school. I kind of want to get away and find out what other places are like."