Individually, Wade Fraser has had the kind of high school career most players only dream about. He has been named All-Sea View League twice, All-Southern Section twice and all-county once.
But soccer is a team sport and every March, it seems Fraser is left with only individual honors. Last year, all that remained after the season was a dead rat.
Yes, a dead rat.
Heavily favored El Toro traveled to Moreno Valley Canyon Springs in the second round of the Division III playoffs and before the game even began, Fraser sensed his team was in trouble.
"It was pouring rain," he said. "The field was so bad, a rat had drowned in one of the puddles. They had two shots to our 22 and beat us, 2-0. That loss hit me harder than any loss I've ever had."
Three years of great expectations, three early exits from the playoffs.
Could this be the year of the Charger? Already one publication is predicting as much.
"They ranked us second and said that we haven't lived up to expectations," El Toro defender Patrick O'Brien said. "It's a slap in the face, but it's definitely true. You see that and it makes you want it so much more. But if you look at it in black and white, we haven't really done anything yet."
El Toro Coach Bob Chavez said Fraser appears committed to changing that statement.
"Wade has put on about 15 pounds, he's grown a couple inches and he looks like he's in the best shape he's ever been in," Chavez said.
Chavez should know. He has known Fraser for 14 years. He has coached Fraser on club and high school teams for seven years. Chavez, who said he almost retired from coaching after last year's loss to Canyon Springs, has decided to let Fraser take the ball and run with it this year.
"The knock on Wade in the past is that you could knock him off the ball, but with his added strength, that's going to be very hard to do," Chavez said. "What that means is, he's going to be able to create that many more opportunities for his teammates."
And headaches for his opponents.
"Ever since I've watched Wade play, he's always been a couple steps ahead of everybody," Chavez said.
Fraser, a senior, will be in the middle of the field in El Toro's new 4-3-3 alignment. As a midfielder, Fraser scored nine goals and had 16 assists last year in El Toro's 4-4-2 scheme. But Fraser said his new position should give him more opportunities to score.
"Everything will go through me and [forward] Ronnie [Davis]," Fraser said. "I'll be the playmaker. With Ronnie and our other forwards attracting attention, it leaves a lot of us open. I could see a lot of guys getting at least 10 goals."
The Chargers return all but three starters. The talent is definitely there, but Fraser worries that it might be there in too many places.
"That could be a problem," Fraser said. "We have players with a lot of individual skills and a lot of guys are going to want to be showing that off. If we're going to succeed, we're going to have to do some sacrificing and play as a team."
Chavez said he's never concerned about Fraser's willingness to sacrifice personal goals for team goals. Obviously, his teammates haven't either. Fraser has been voted team captain by his peers the last three seasons.
"You need to have that field general out there and Wade has always been that," Chavez said. "He's always had a lot of skill. But even when he was younger, he always had that ability to see the whole field. He always seems to know when to look for teammates."
And when to take charge.
"Wade's matured as a player, but he's also a leader," said O'Brien, who has been playing with Fraser on club and high school teams for seven years. "He goes out there and demands respect by the way he plays."
Fraser has played well enough on the club and high school level to attract attention from some top college soccer teams. Rutgers, Fresno State, Washington and San Jose State appear to be the most interested. Fraser said Rutgers is the current front-runner.
But before Fraser goes off to college, he'd like to remember his high school soccer career for something other than a dead rat.
"It's been good but it could have been better," Fraser said. "We definitely have the team to do it, but luck plays a part too. My sophomore year, we had the worst team I've ever played on and we went the farthest. This year, maybe we need to be good and lucky."
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Boys' soccer at a glance
Top players: Daniel Califf, Orange, defender, Jr.; Walter Camargo, Mater Dei, midfielder, Sr.; Ron Davis, El Toro, forward, Sr.; Victor Diaz, Orange, forward, Sr.; Bryan Doi, Laguna Hills, midfielder, Jr.; Byron Foss, Santa Margarita, goalkeeper, Jr.; Wade Fraser, El Toro, midfielder, Sr.; Ryan Futagaki, Fountain Valley, forward, Jr.; Glenn Gallinger, Huntington Beach, forward, Sr.; Stephen Gonzalez, Orange, midfielder, Sr.; Chris Hulgreen, Mater Dei, defender, Sr.; Tarek Hussein, Loara, midfielder, Sr.; Garrett Jansma, Newport Harbor, midfielder, Sr.; Jeff Jensen, Woodbridge, midfielder, Sr.; Eric Johnson, Capistrano Valley, midfielder, Sr.; Brenton Junge, Trabuco Hills, goalkeeper, Sr.; Tobin Junowich, Newport Harbor, midfielder, Sr.; Joel Leal, Valencia, forward, Sr.; Carlos Loza, Costa Mesa, goalkeeper, Sr.; Matt Moses, Santa Margarita, forward, Sr.; Albert Mendez, Santiago, forward, Sr.; Marc Ornelas, Laguna Beach, sweeper, Sr.; Ricky Parker, Capistrano Valley, defender, Sr.; Ezequiel Paz, Fullerton, midfielder, Sr.; Matt Resor, Cypress, goalkeeper, Sr.; Jose Retiz, Saddleback, midfielder, Jr.; Juan Reyes, Santa Ana, forward, Jr; Jake Roquemore, Edison, defender, Sr.; Thomas Serna, Saddleback, forward, Jr.; Grant Thompson, Edison, forward, Sr.; Chris Whitworth, Laguna Beach, midfielder, Sr.
League favorites: Century: Orange; Empire: El Dorado; Freeway: Fullerton; Garden Grove: Santiago; Golden West: Saddleback; Olympic: Orange Lutheran; Orange: Brea Olinda; Pacific Coast: Estancia; Sea View: El Toro; South Coast: Capistrano Valley; Sunset: Huntington Beach.
1995-96 final poll: 1. Esperanza; 2. Santa Ana; 3. Orange; 4. El Toro; 5. Santiago; 6. Santa Ana; 7. Newport Harbor; 8. Santa Margarita; 9. Saddleback; 10. Mater Dei.
1996-97 preseason poll: 1. Orange; 2. El Toro; 3. Saddleback; 4. Santa Ana; 5. Capistrano Valley; 6. Mater Dei; 7. Woodbridge; 8. Santa Margarita; 9. Huntington Beach; 10. Esperanza.
Key dates: Irvine Tournament, Dec. 7, 9, 11, 14; Brea Olinda Tournament, Dec. 18-21; Trabuco Hills Tournament, Dec. 26-30; Marina Tournament, Dec. 27-30; Southern Section playoffs, Feb. 21, 25, 27, March 4. Section finals, March 7-8.
Notes: Fountain Valley, a Division I finalist two years ago, finished 4-6 in the Sunset League last year and lost in the first round of the playoffs. But the Barons return seven starters, including national junior team forward Futagaki, and they should contend with Esperanza, Huntington Beach and Edison for the Sunset League title. . . . Ray Hales, a former coach at Corona del Mar, is the new coach at Capistrano Valley Christian. . . . Today, defending Division II champion Orange opens at Edison, a team it has never beaten.