Larkin senior forward Erik Rodriguez likes to score goals and he's not shy about it.
"I score a lot of goals," he says. "Scoring is my biggest factor out on the field."
That self-confidence doesn't fall into the bragging category. That's simply Rodriguez telling it like it is. His job for Larkin the last four years was to put the ball in the back of the net.
And Rodriguez performed his task wonderfully. The 3.9-GPA student led the Royals in scoring all four years in high school. He cracked the 20-goal barrier in each of the last three seasons.
Rodriguez's offensive prowess this season helped Larkin advance deep to at least a sectional final, which the Royals (15-5-4) will play today at York against Upstate Eight River rival St. Charles East, and has earned him the distinction of being named the honorary co-captain of the Daily Herald's Fox Valley all-area boys soccer team for the second year in a row. Rodriguez shared the honor last year with Cary-Grove's Drew Conner.
"My team needs me to score," Rodriguez says. "That's what the team needs and I'm happy to score the goals. It's my job. I'm a striker and that's what strikers look to do. At that position, goals are what you are ranked on and what you are judged on. If you aren't scoring, you aren't doing what strikers need to do."
Rodriguez, a three-time all-conference selection, had 24 goals and 14 assists heading into Larkin's sectional semifinal game earlier this week. Rodriguez scored the game-winning goal on a penalty kick in Larkin's regional title win over Schaumburg.
"It's his consistency of play that stands out," Larkin coach Ken Hall says. "We knew we can count on him for goal production. He's our leader offensively, there is no question. Erik knows the game very well and is aware of spaces. When he has the ball, he's hard to track down. More than anything, he's a complete player."
Hall, Larkin's longtime boys and girls soccer coach, has seen a lot of talented players funnel through the boys program over the years. Rodriguez is extremely high on that list. He had 23 goals and 14 assists last year and helped Larkin reach the regional championship game.
"We've had a lot of good players here and a lot of good scorers," Hall says. "He's up there with any of them, there's no question about it."
Rodriguez, who has verbally committed to continue his career at DePaul next season and would like to study pharmacy, feels he's taken a major step forward this season in the leadership department.
"I'm a better leader than I was last year," he says. "I've matured through the years. It's been fun being the leader of these guys. I take stuff more seriously now. My first and second years at Larkin, you kind of take things for granted because you can say you have another year or two to play varsity. It's my senior year now. It hits you hard. This is the last year you get to represent your school, you community and your friends. That really means something."
Hall adds: "The guys all look to him for leadership. He's our best player and they know that. Erik is more of a quiet leader. He leads by example."
While Rodriguez scores plenty of goals, he stresses he's not a one-man show out there.
"My teammates give me great assists," he says. "My teammates help me and I'm happy that the coaching staff trusts me. My teammates mean everything to me. Without them, I couldn't be able to do what I do. My teammates have supported me and have always been there for me. They are the ones doing all the work and passing me the ball."
Rodriguez says playing the striker position takes a certain type of skill set.
"You have to play well with your back to the goal and you have to have that killer instinct," he says. "When you have the chance, you have to put it away. You don't know if you are going to have second or a third chance. You always have to be on your toes. You never know when the defense is going to slip up. You have to be ready for your golden opportunity."
When he's not tearing it up on the soccer field, Rodriguez enjoys spending time with friends and playing video games (a FIFA soccer game is one of his favorites).
"I'm not a big going out guy," he says.
But Rodriguez has certainly gone out with a bang for Larkin this season.
"I played four years on varsity here. It's been a lot of fun," he says. "The coaching staff has been phenomenal to me. Two other seniors -- Tony Hernandez and Michel Gomez -- have been here with me. I will miss all of this, but I'm excited to move on and play college soccer."
Hall adds Rodriguez's excellence spans well beyond the field.
"Erik is an excellent student. He takes a bunch of honors and AP classes," he says. "Erik is a great soccer player and an well-rounded individual."
Rodriguez marvels at the progression his soccer career has taken over the years.
"When I was little, I was out of shape," he says. "I started out playing soccer for fun. As the years went on, I took it more seriously and fell in love with the sport."
And that love has been apparent every time Rodriguez has put on a Larkin uniform the last four years.