He rode the bus, ate with the team and dressed for games, but when Tampa Prep claimed the Class 2A title last year in Fort Lauderdale, Ryan Griffin - thanks to a lingering hamstring and lower back injury - was merely a spectator.
He wasn't happy about it.
"It was tough," Griffin said. "I remember saying to myself, "I really want to get back next year.' "
A season later, Tampa Prep (22-4-3) again is headed to the final four as the Terrapins play Delray Beach American Heritage at 2 p.m. Friday at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium. And Griffin, a sophomore forward who leads the county with 39 goals and has added 31 assists, has played no small role.
"He's strong, physical, reads the game well, is aggressive to the ball and isn't afraid to take people on," Tampa Prep coach Jose DaCosta said.
"He's always in the right place. He's not scared of a challenge. He loves the contact. And he's so tenacious. He just came back this year a totally different player."
That Griffin is a major contributor is not a surprise. That he became a star is.
"I didn't expect that much going into the season," Griffin said.
A growth spurt certainly helped.
He is not just a different player. He's a different person.
A year ago, Griffin was 5-foot-9, 155 pounds. He started for the Terrapins until getting hurt midway through the season. Today, he is 6-2, 170. He's stronger and faster.
"It's definitely a lot easier to push people around now," Griffin said. "From the beginning of the season, I just felt like being a big part of this team."
That he has.
On a high-scoring squad (the Terrapins have 114 goals), Griffin has been tough for opponents to contain.
Blessed with great vision, field smarts and the ability to kick with either foot, he has been held without either a goal or an assist in only three games, DaCosta said. In one outing, he put four shots into the net.
"He really dedicated himself to getting better and more physically prepared," DaCosta said.
Just as he did a year ago, Griffin is about to board a bus and head to Fort Lauderdale. But at this final four, he won't be watching from the sideline. Instead, he will be right in the middle of the action.
"I'm really feeling it right now," Griffin said. "But (his statistics) won't mean anything if we don't win state. We've got to get the job done."
TAMPA PREP: MEET THE TEAM
NAME POS. YR. Comment
Garrett Fierstein D Sr. Solid, lockdown defender
Chris Friedrich D So. Aggressive, attacking defender
Robby Goldsberry D Sr. Four-year starter is a captain
Ryan Griffin F So. Leads county with 39 goals
Matt Hebert MF Jr. Anchors midfield with 22 goals
Isaac Karpay D Jr. First-year starter has shined
Garrett Landry MF Sr. Very strong at right-mid
Brad Sienkiewicz GK So. School record 17 shutouts
Zach Taylor MF Jr. 30 goals is second on the team
Alex Tuch MF Fr. Small, but speedy; has 21 assists
Sam Wiand MF Jr. Perfect fit at defensive center-
Devin Dedrick D So. Consistent player has broken
Matt Knapp MF Sr. Versatile enough to play several
Davis Miller MF Sr. Has played well after taking year
- KEITH NIEBUHR, Times staff writer