There really is no debate who is most deserving of the title of captain of the Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area boys soccer team.
While there were once again many fantastic players in the area, no one was as prolific a scorer as Naperville Central's Pat Flynn, and no one scored more timely goals in big games.
"He's got a nose for the goal along with very good skills and a high level of confidence, so from that standpoint he's the best I've seen this year at the high school level," Waubonsie Valley coach Angelo DiBernardo said. "I would love to have a player like that every year, but they don't come around every year."
A closer look at how Naperville Central finished 17-1 in the regular season shows just how magnificent a year Flynn has put together.
The Redhawks had their share of comfortable victories, but five of their 17 wins came via single-goal margins. In four of those five contests, Flynn scored the game-winning goal, and he did it against high-caliber teams.
He did it in 2-1 victory over Fremd on Aug. 28. Then two days later he did it again in a 1-0 win over Sandburg.
In one of the big early season matchups, with the championship of the Best of the West Tournament on the line against, Flynn scored with 39 seconds left to lift the Redhawks to a 2-1 victory.
Through Saturday's Class 3A Naperville Central regional championship, Flynn had scored in 18 of the team's 20 victories. The only two times he didn't score were in a 1-0 victory against Addison Trail on Sept. 8 and in the team's only loss, a 2-1 overtime decision to Naperville North on Oct. 2.
"Pat is having arguably the best season of any player in the state," Naperville Central coach Troy Adams said. "Not only has he put the ball in the net often this year, he has done it on a consistent basis."
Flynn recently announced that he would playing soccer next season at DePaul University. While his goal count continues to climb this fall in Naperville, he plans on pursuing an accounting degree in Chicago.
Through Tuesday's sectional semifinal, Flynn has scored 27 goals and pushed his varsity total to 50. He possesses the school record for most goals in a single season and all-time.
"The accolades might be individual, but it's a team effort and they put me in a position to be successful," Flynn said. "It would be ridiculous to think that one kid could carry a team of 11. I might get some of these individual things, but none of this would happen if it weren't for the hard work of the team."
While he's certainly humble with his success, there's no denying that Flynn is a special talent and one who is able to see things before they happen on the soccer field. Being a step ahead of a defender is usually what determines scoring a goal, or having it deflected by a defender or saved by a goalkeeper.
"If the ball comes to me, I already know where I'm going to go with it," Flynn said. "It's a lot easier to know what you're going to do before you receive it. The defenders are so quick and physical today that you have to be prepared ahead of time."
There's also the knowledge that comes from understanding who your opponent is in every match, as well as getting to know how they defend or how they might try to defend your next move.
"Experience is a big thing, and since I've been attacking my whole life I'm looking for shots and understanding what defenders are going to do," he said. "I'll remember how a certain guy defended me the last time and then I think ahead of how I can attack them differently now."
Regardless of how he chooses to attack, Flynn is succeeding in great numbers because he's an extraordinary athlete.
"He is able to control difficult balls and quickly settle them to his feet," Adams said. "This allows him to operate in tight spaces that often occur in the final third."
While he has a feel for the game that's unparalleled, he's also scored some goals that have left coaches, plans and fans with their mouths ajar.
"He has that 'wow' factor, making plays on the field that make you shake your head," Adams said.
After Naperville Central finishes second in the state last season, Flynn worked extra hard in the off-season to prepare for his final season as a Redhawk, with hopes of another great season and an extended postseason run. Obviously, the hard work has paid off.
Senior Connor Allen, who has been a teammate of Flynn's since the two were in eighth grade, worked out with Flynn during the summer.
"He worked harder than ever before in training because he knew he'd have to step up and he's really done that," Allen said. "He's obviously a very good player and been someone we can rely on because he always scores a goal in all of our games."
And he's not taking anything for granted. Flynn doesn't hesitate when saying that winning the Best of the West and a DuPage Valley Conference title were two great regular-season accomplishments but were just appetizers on the team's road to a state title.
"We want to get to that final game again and not fall short," he said. "We want to win state."