CHAPEL HILL On the field, North Carolina's Enzo Martinez is as fierce a competitor as one would expect the starting midfielder for the top-ranked men's college soccer team to be.
Off the field, though, Martinez shelves the ferocity for a more polite demeanor, thanking reporters for covering the game before fielding questions.
"A lot of the times after the game, I go home and I feel bad because I yelled at the ref or I yell at a teammate," Martinez said. "When you step on the field, you transform into another person. The hard work does not change but the attitude does."
The Tar Heels will need Martinez' intensity this weekend in Hoover, Ala., as they face No. 13 UCLA tonight in the NCAA College Cup (8:30 p.m.). It's the fourth-straight appearance for UNC in the Final Four of men's soccer, and its first with head coach Carlos Somoano.
Martinez, a junior, was recruited heavily by Somoano when he was an assistant coach under Elmar Bolowich. At Rock Hill, S.C.'s Northwestern High , Martinez set a state high school record with 182 goals in his four years.
He became something of a local celebrity, signing autographs after games. He was even approached after officiating club soccer games.
"I think why people liked me wasn't so much soccer as it was I was willing to help anyone," Martinez said. "Of course, it's nice when people come up and ask you for your autograph, or they recognize you wherever you are. Those things came about not just because of the soccer. That has a lot to do with it, but also the personality and how I was to people I met throughout my life."
His personality comes with a strong competitive streak, though. Martinez hasn't scored 22 career goals being Mr. Nice Guy on the pitch.
"We laugh and joke when we're playing futsal inside, and he'll start slide-tackling indoors," senior captain Kirk Urso said. "His work ethic and competitiveness that he brings adds so much to the team."
While his game flourished with Bolowich at the helm, Martinez said he's been helped by Somoano's more disciplined style of play. Each player knows his role, Martinez said, and that leads to quicker decisions on the field. .
"Obviously they had to get used to what my expectations were and what my vision was for the program and my style of play," Somoano said. "And there's no quick fix in that regard. You have to work at it consistently. They make good decisions, and I'm not making these decisions any more for them. Now they're reading the game based on what we did on their own."
The adjustment in the style of play may be what North Carolina and Martinez needs to claim an elusive national championship - a title the Tar Heels haven't won since 2001.
But along with good soccer, the team relies on the intensity of Martinez.
"He just goes and goes," Somoano said, "and not just a physical energy, but an emotional, spiritual energy that he's able to bring day-in and day-out. That's just contagious and infectious to the rest of the team."