DANVILLE — Cameron Griffin is glad he didn’t make an early commitment.
As a sixth-grader, he was an outfielder on a North Ridge Middle School baseball team that qualified for the IESA state tournament.
"Baseball was my favorite sport," Griffin said. "I remember thinking I was better at baseball, maybe it could take me farther, maybe I should give up soccer."
Good thing he didn’t or there would have been a different selection to headline the 18th News-Gazette All-Area boys’ soccer team as Player of the Year. Griffin is the first goalkeeper to win the yearly honor.
The son of Danville High School soccer coach Chris Griffin, Cameron Griffin wasn’t always the last line of defense.
"I’ve been playing soccer since I could walk," Cameron Griffin said. "Throughout grade school, I was the left back or left midfielder."
His sixth-grade year, his team needed a goalkeeper.
"I was messing around at practice and my coach (Gabe Lutterschmidt) saw me and thought I could do well," Griffin said. "It was a new experience."
The Quincy University recruit believes the move has helped prolong his competitive career.
"I was never much of a goal scorer, and I don’t know if I’m the player I am today in the field," he said. "I found my spot in goal."
As a senior, Griffin excelled in the toughest aspect of his job. He faced eight penalty kicks and stopped six of them.
The key, he said, is not to apply undue pressure in those situations and avoid getting tense.
"As the goalie, you’re not expected to make the save (on penalty kicks)," Griffin said. "The guy shooting is expected to make the shot.
"There’s no pressure on me. If you make the save, it’s a huge momentum swing. You’ve got to know if they do score, it’s not that big of a deal."
While Griffin found a home in front of the net, it took time at home for his dad to be convinced it was the proper move.
"It made sense because he has good hands," Chris Griffin said, "but I was never willing to do it. Normally you don’t take one of your better field players off the field. It has worked out well.
"He took off in the position right away. Once the move was made, I could see he had good potential at that position."
Cameron Griffin was a three-year starter for the Vikings. He got a taste of varsity action late in his freshman season.
"One of my best memories was as a freshman, we went four overtimes with Urbana," Griffin said. "I never thought I’d progress to where I am."
Griffin had another special memory as a senior, but it didn’t involve a spectacular save or any of his 11 shutouts.
Danville built a five-goal lead against Charleston on Senior Night, and Chris Griffin gave his son a chance to play in the field for the first time since he was a freshman.
"Every kid thinks about getting a game-winning goal," Cameron Griffin said. "I have those dreams."
His goal didn’t win the match, but it was just as memorable, and it was a true family affair.
"Caleb (Griffin, his freshman brother) got the assist," Cameron Griffin said. "He played me a pass over the top. The goalie was out, and I chipped it over (his head) from 18 to 20 yards out."
The follow-up wasn’t instinctual.
"After scoring, I didn’t know how to celebrate," Griffin said. "I turned and ran to the bench, and we all celebrated together. After a (keeper) save, you have to get right back at it."
Before visions of developing into a future Lionel Messi became prominent, Griffin was reminded of his place on the field.
He had a subsequent shot on goal — from about 15 yards away — and said, "I completely missed it."
It was good fodder for his teammates.
"I haven’t lived that down," he said.
He enjoyed the year he got to spend on the field with his brother, who led the regional champions in assists and was second in scoring.
"It was something I always looked forward to but was also nervous about," Cameron Griffin said. "Growing up, we did a lot of arguing on the field.
"We realized we had to be mature about it and lead by example. We’ve grown out of that and realize it’s pointless."
Griffin had the best view of his younger brother’s exploits. The action was directly in front of him.
"The stuff he does, I wonder how he manages to pull it off at any age, especially for as young as he is," Griffin said. "He has a lot of talent, and this year was a lot of fun."
Danville (16-6-3) made a deep postseason run in Class 2A, advancing to the sectional final before losing 1-0 to Springfield, a team that went on to place third at state. The regional title was the school’s first in soccer in 13 years.
In the team’s final nine matches, that was the only loss. There were two ties in that stretch; one was 0-0 against a Normal Community squad that placed second at state in Class 3A.
Being coached by his dad had benefits and drawbacks.
"It’s nice to have someone who knows and understands the game like he does to talk to," Griffin said. "He can give advice or feedback on what I should have done in certain situations.
"But if I’m not working hard, I never hear the end of it until the next day when I work harder."
For Chris Griffin, the highlight was how well things fell into place this season.
"This senior class was forced into action as sophomores, at a time they weren’t ready (for varsity)," he said. "To make that run with this group of seniors, and with both boys on the team, was special for me."
Cameron Griffin is joining a Quincy program that was ranked fifth in the final NCAA Division II national poll.
"I’m hoping I can compete and push myself in my development," he said.
If the past is a good indicator of the future, chances are good that Griffin will need to save room in his personal collection for more soccer memories.
Players of the Year
YEAR NAME SCHOOL
2014 Cameron Griffin Danville
2013 Saul Downie Urbana
2012 Miguel Fierro Urbana
2011 J.J. Malone Blue Ridge
2010 Adam Blackman Urbana
2009 Jacob Bushue Centennial
2008 Richard Kayede Urbana
2007 Jonathan Hinds Centennial
2006 Corey Kallembach Centennial
2005 Nick Leigh Urbana
2004 Michael Marten Judah C.
2003 Joe D’Amico Centennial
2002 Tony Cook Monticello
2001 Nic Wedig Centennial
2000 Jason Curtiss Centennial
1999 Wally Musumeci Central
1998 Kirk Strebin Danville
1997 Tavis Bones Central
Coaches of the Year
YEAR NAME SCHOOL
2014 Marty Price Blue Ridge
2013 John Klaber Hoopeston
2012 Randy Blackman Urbana
2011 Phil Anders Uni High