Many people miss their calling.
Matt Messerle found his just in time. And the Spring-Ford boys lacrosse program is extremely thankful for that.
Messerle the midfielder had a certain ring to it. But one summer day ahead of entering eighth grade he had an awakening. All along, Messerle was born to be a goalie.
"I started off playing middie,' the recent Spring-Ford graduate said. "My dad (Kevin Messerle) played goalie in college and one day, I have no clue where it came from, I went to him and said, '˜I want to learn how to play goalie.'
"He tried to talk me out of it actually. He said, '˜Are you sure you want to get into the cage?' "
Kevin Messerle, who played his college lacrosse at Drexel University, may have guided his son to the sport, but he didn't push him in between the pipes. All it took was one trip to the backyard.
"We went out back and started taking shots and I just turned out to be a natural at it,' Matt Messerle said. "I loved it and kept playing.'
Messerle caught on quickly, thanks in part to his in-home mentor and teacher. His rapid rise continued upon taking over the Spring-Ford starting spot as a sophomore and three years later he backstopped the Rams to a fourth straight Pioneer Athletic Conference title while solidifying their place as the top team in the league in the process.
The Rams in Messerle's senior season were a team built on a collective spirit, priding themselves on being a group achieving through the talents of all, not the excellence of one. But the level-headed goalie with the flair for the dynamic save was undeniable on so many occasions, it is hard to envision a 19-3 season possible without him.
It is why Messerle is the 2014 Mercury All-Area Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year.
Messerle stopped 66 percent of shots faced while leading Spring-Ford to 19 wins, just one win short of the school's record-setting 20-win season in 2011. The Rams lost just three games, only falling to teams that made their respective state finals, District 1 champion and PIAA runner-up Avon Grove (twice) and Inter-Ac champion Malvern Prep.
Messerle made it possible with his commitment to the cause each day.
"I come out and give 100 percent every day. You can't take days off if you want to get better, you just need to stay focused on the main goal,' he said.
"The biggest thing for a goalie is having confidence, the confidence that you can make the save. You have to practice like you play. If you're screwing around in practice you're not going to perfect the technique you have to use in the game. You're not going to make the perfect save every time but you have to start somewhere.'
Messerle's '˜somewhere' started with his father.
"I worked a lot with my dad. He gave me a ton of drills. He really taught me my technique. He really focused on proper technique and I think I based my game off of that,' he said.
Establishing a foundation of the fundamentals is part of the equation. Part of what makes Messerle stand out is how much of a student of the game he is.
"At goalie you are the quarterback of the defense. You have to call out what the attack's doing, where they are going, if a player is picking — it's a huge part knowing what the other team is doing,' he said. "That's where film work comes in handy. Being able to read the field is huge on clears, too, figuring out where people are going to go, finding the 2-on-1, picking the right matchups. You have to know the other team to take your game to the next level.'
Messerle puts '˜100 percent' into the film work, too.
"Every day before the game I would spend 30 minutes to an hour depending on the game deciphering the other team's attack, their rides and figuring out where the weak spot is, who their main guy is, who their main shooter is and what they like to do,' he said.
Add it up and he will follow in his father's footsteps and play goalie at the college level as Messerle is moving on to Division II Goucher College in Towson, Md., in the fall.
One of the Rams captains, Messerle felt a high level of commitment from each of his teammates all year.
"We all gelled right from Day 1. This was my favorite year — there was no one who really stood out as one individual player. We relied on each other to win which was really awesome,' Messerle said.
"Everyone was committed to win. No one had their own personal agenda. Everyone was here to win. It was strictly business on the field, which made it a lot more fun to play because everyone had one goal in mind: to make it as far into the playoffs we could.'
That included Messerle sharing time with fellow senior goalie Greg Bresnan, who missed a chunk of the season due to injury.
"Me and Greg are good friends so I enjoyed sharing time with him. We pushed each other in a fun, competitive way in practice. We always supported each other but we made each other better. A lot of my improvement comes from him pushing me,' Messerle said.
"There were some games where you want to stay in a good, close game but at the same time you want to share that winning success with him.'
Spring-Ford had more than its share of good, close games early in the season while the team found its way. The Rams were less than dominant early in the season in wins over Owen J. Roberts (10-7), upstart Perkiomen Valley (11-10) and Methacton (6-4).
The second meeting with chief rival OJR was another close win, 9-7. The Rams-Wildcats boys lacrosse rivalry is arguably the best on the area's high school sports scene, all eight PAC-10 finals pitting the teams against one another.
"I'm going to miss that a lot,' Messerle said of the rivalry. "Everyone got up for those games. You'd be sitting in class all day and you couldn't think of anything but the game. I'll really miss that rivalry and I enjoyed having the better of it all three years.'
Messerle and the Rams got a third meeting with OJR in the PAC-10 championship game on May 8. The 2012 final went to overtime, the 2013 final needed double overtime and the 2014 regular season meetings were close contests.
The 2014 title game required less dramatics.
"The double overtime game last year, I'm never going to forget that. But I think my favorite game was winning it nice and calmly this year. Not having to worry about any heart attacks or any nervous breakdowns. The first few years were interesting games ... this year's PAC-10 (final) was probably my most memorable because we dominated. That might be the best game I've seen us play, we beat them in every aspect,' Messerle said.
The dominance was possible largely due to Messerle making 19 saves, plenty of the spectacular variety thanks to his ability and agility to stop any shot high, low, far and near. He was originally scheduled to play just the first half, allowing Bresnan to play the second half, but coach Kevin Donnelly opted to ride with the outstanding Messerle for the duration.
As the goalie of three straight PAC-10 final wins, two of the overtime variety, Messerle has proven himself to be a big-game player. But that isn't the way he thinks of himself.
"I don't like to (think of myself as a big-game player), I like to think of myself as an every-game player,' he said. "I guess I do show up well in big games. I just play well under pressure. I like playing under pressure. I don't know what it is, but I can't think of a huge game that I haven't shown up in. I prepare the same way as every other game, things just work out in those games.'
The Rams opened the District 1 playoffs with a 9-7 victory over Lower Merion to set up a meeting with Avon Grove. The Rams and Red Devils, respectively coached by former roommates at West Chester Donnelly and Eric Jackson, have an annual non-league encounter in the regular season, won by Avon Grove 12-7 on April 8.
Spring-Ford took a 5-4 lead at halftime but things came undone in the second half, the Rams ultimately falling 12-8.
"We were beating them; I thought we were on our way to winning,' Messerle said. "A couple rough calls occurred and momentum changed, they scored a couple man-down goals and we just couldn't get it back.
"It was a rough way to end. I think we definitely could have won that game.'
Avon Grove parlayed the win into a second straight District 1 championship and eventual second-place finish in the state while the Rams were left still seeking their first berth in the PIAA playoffs.
As Spring-Ford continues to narrow the gap with the top teams in District 1, Messerle believes the time is near.
"We have a lot of upcoming guys and I really feel like they can do it in the next couple years. I really felt like we had a shot this year. A couple bounces go our way and who knows? Maybe we're there,' he said.
It won't be an easy feat, especially having to replace a natural born goalie like Messerle.
Follow Austin Hertzog on Twitter @AustinHertzog