Ask Freedom High boys soccer coach Dennis Derflinger what it is that makes midfielder Ellis Curry stand out, and the answer is an easy one.
"He works the whole time, 100 percent," Derflinger said. "He'll be out there for 80 minutes, and he'll play the 80th minute as hard as he will the first minute, and I think that's what makes him stand out along with his skill. He's just a workhorse, he won't stop working."
That drive is why Curry has been so sorely missed by the Patriots over the past month. During the Patriots' 3-1 victory against Hillsborough on Dec.1, Curry suffered a foot injury and has been sidelined ever since. Over that time, Freedom has won games against Leto and Strawberry Crest, but still sits fifth in the Class 5A-District 9 standings after a 4-0 loss to Sickles.
His absence from the Patriots starting 11 has been difficult for the senior who played such a key role in the Patriots run to the Class 5A state final a season ago.
"It's been very frustrating," Curry said. "I really want to be on the pitch."
You can trace that frustration back to the drive Derflinger talks about. Curry has constantly sought ways to improve himself, even running for the Freedom cross country team this fall to improve his fitness and stamina. Curry said his drive comes from wanting to be the best player he can.
"I just want to be the best," Curry said.
If he does go on to play college soccer, Curry said part of the credit would have to go to former Freedom players such as Deion Jones, now with Florida Gulf Coast, and Bobby Huertas, now with Saint Leo, for pushing him to become the player he is.
"They taught me to play quick," Curry said. "It's all about quickness and thinking ahead of everything. They really pushed me physically and mentally."
A big mental push is what Freedom is going to need when its season resumes with a game against district rival Chamberlain on Tuesday. Victories in both that game and against a strong Gaither squad three days later will be critical if the Patriots are to improve their seeding for the district tournament, and gain a chance at another run in the region playoffs. Derflinger said having Curry back for those two games will be crucial.
"It's been pretty apparent that we need him out there," Derflinger said. "He's one of the reasons we've been struggling the last couple of games, but we're due to get him back once we get back off break, so I'm hoping for a major improvement when we finish up our district schedule with the last two (games) we have."
Although the Patriots will have players to take his place when Curry moves on after this season, the shoes he will leave to fill, as with Jones and Huertas before him, will be large ones.
"It would be nice to have him another couple of years, that's for sure, because he can control the game," Derflinger said. "He can get out there and make things happen and be an all-around playmaker for us. In that respect, we will miss him, but I don't think that it's going to be detrimental to the young guys who are going to get a lot of playing time this year who are going to be able to step up and fill the void."