Before this year, Hopewell senior Danny Wintermeier had only played soccer as a little boy. And in video games.
"I played FIFA, so I knew the rules," the 17-year-old said. "I just brought that knowledge and started playing."
Wintermeier, a central defender for the Titans, joined the team after co-captain Tyler Roberts, one of his friends, convinced him to come out for the team as the Titans were low on numbers at the beginning of the year.
"We didn't really expect anything. ... He was just a guy we needed to come in and be a body," said Titans' coach Robb Bolar. "Instead, he's played every second of every game."
Never miss a local story.
Playing a significant role on the Hopewell squad also came as a surprise for Wintermeier.
"I didn't know how it was going to work out when I first came out here," he said. "I just kept working hard and things have worked out well."
Bolar said that work ethic is the reason the center back has become so instrumental for his team's defense and why Wintermeier has started every game of the season for Hopewell.
"As a stopper, he's been winning 50-50 balls," said Bolar. "He hustles, he gives everything he has every play."
That determination has been contagious for the Titans.
"He fires us up, he gets us going," said Bolar. "As a senior, he's also a natural leader, he's a good communicator, which is important especially in the back. ... He's a player we can rally around."
Bolar admits that he's never seen a first-year player start on a soccer team in his eight-year coaching career.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "He may not have the best skills in the world, but he makes that up by working his butt off."
Wintermeier, who also started playing tennis for the first time last year, admits that it took some time for him to get used to some aspects of the game, including handling the soccer ball and learning Hopewell's zone defense.
Although Wintermeier wanted to play midfield when he first tried out for the team, he said Bolar played him in the backline because he still had trouble with his ball handling. The 6-foot, 165 pounder said he's learned to enjoy playing defense.
Wintermeier explained that he was nervous at the beginning of the season, but as his confidence has increased, so has his play on the field.
"But there's still room for improvement," he said. "I want to hold it down back there."
Wintermeier isn't the only surprise on the roster. Seniors Matt Wheeler, a starter on the midfield, and Nikhil Jyothinagaram are also playing on the squad for the first time.
Hopewell as a team has also been surprising. After finishing last season with a losing record, the team started off 2010 with a better than expected 6-3 record (as of Oct. 8).
"I don't think anybody thought of us as a conference contender, but we're doing pretty good this year," he said.
Wintermeier said he and his teammates hope to compete for the I-Meck title and hopefully get a high seed in the playoffs.
Bolar, who's in his first season with the Titans' boys team, said the Titans' performance has been due in large part to the team playing cohesively.
Although the team lost to rivals North Meck last, the Titans have tied the number of conference wins they had last year - with four.
The team has played impressive defense, recording five shutouts this season with Wintermeier in the back line.
"He's really helped us out a lot," said Bolar.
Wintermeier hopes to keep doing just that.
"I just want to steadily improve," he said.