There wasn't much need for debate when selecting this year's captain of the Daily Herald's boys soccer all-area team for Lake County.
Daniel Szczepanek of Warren separated himself with his all-around talents and abilities. That same skill set will take him to Marquette University starting next fall.
"He's really the best player that Warren's ever had," Warren coach Jason Ahonen said. "You have to talk about the total package that he brings on and off the field.
"Normally, a player of his caliber shows the way he plays is the way he trains."
Favorable comparisons can certainly be made to a pair of former Warren graduate standouts, Anthony Colaizzi (2007) and Scott Malagon (2005). Colaizzi also went to Marquette and was an All-American player in his day.
"Daniel plays both ways on the field," Ahonen said. "He just controls everything and has comlete responsibility. He's just a two-way player."
He's also been the picture of reliability. Szczepanek has only missed one game in his 4-year career and has played in a school-record 95 games.
Szczepanek has produced superlative stats for a second straight season: 13 goals and 22 assists, following a junior year of 20 goals and 22 assists. In his high school career, he's got 43 goals and 56 assists heading into Friday's sectional final contest against Barrington.
It's his second straight all-area team honor.
"I guess I'm the playmaker," said Szczepanek of his role on the team. "I've not scored that many goals this year, but I still have the assists. I just use my creativity and field vision to give my teammates the opportunity to score."
One thing that stands out more than anything else to many of his peers and opposing coaches is how Szczepanek is a leader not only on the field but off it.
"One of our assistant coaches, Doogie (Clark), calls me 'The General'," Szczepanek said. "I have good leadership with people and know how to build off of it."
For instance, Szczepanek frequently takes time to talk with younger players, especially a freshman or two who'd earned spots on the varsity, to help them with their game.
And then there's leadership by example, displayed every time Szczepanek took the field.
"He's just smart about it, and he has mastered a lot of things," said his teammate, Sean Kirwan. "Passing, shooting, dribbling and trapping .. He's just a leader out there.
"We've played together for a number of years. Basically, we know where we're going to be, knowing what to do without talking about it. It does come pretty easy when we play."
The team's gains are clear, and Szczepanek's individual improvement is certainly part of that success.
"I've seen other players have stepped up," Szczepanek said. "My skills are much better this year. My touch, my feet, I've gained some muscle mass. From last year to this year, you can see that I'm a better player."
Szczepanek recognizes that playmaking might be his strength, but he's also been instrumental in getting Warren to collectively understand that not allowing goals is at least as important as scoring them.
"I know defense wins championships," Szczepanek said. "Offense has the glory. On defense, you don't want to let up.
"I know I can score goals on offense. In order to be a good player, you must be able to retreat as a defender. Defense first, that's where you can start the attack. I'd prefer scoring, but at the end of the day, it's to get the win."
Timmy Pieper, another teammate, summarized Szczepanek's succinctly.
"His playing ability is second to none," Pieper said. "His work rate never stops. He keeps on playing and never stops, and that motivates the rest of the team."