David Beall is a somewhat reluctant leader.
As an offensive-minded midfielder for the St. Francis High soccer team, Beall sets the tempo for the Golden Knights.
He knows he is the school's most gifted player, the latest in a growing list of All-Southern Section performers. But he sidesteps suggestions that his burden is greater than that of his teammates.
"I'm not a torch carrier or anything," Beall says of his role. "I'm just in there helping out."
Whether or not he admits it, Beall, 5-foot-7, 145 pounds, is one of the primary reasons St. Francis is off to the best start in school history.
The Knights, ranked seventh in the Southern Section 3-A Division poll, are 11-1-1 overall and 3-0 in Del Rey League play.
Beall, a senior, has scored 12 goals, contributed five assists and, like the best players in any sport, has delivered in the clutch.
"David is a tremendous individual player," St. Francis Coach Glen Appels says. "There have been several instances where we've looked to him in key situations and he's responded."
Indeed, earlier this season Beall demonstrated his capabilities against powerful La Canada by scoring the winning goal in the final two minutes.
Two weeks ago at Loyola, Beall scored St. Francis' only first-half goal as Loyola jumped to a 3-1 lead. In the second half, he added an assist, then scored the game-winner as the Knights came back to win, 4-3.
Despite his ability to make it look easy, this has been a rough season for Beall, who earned second-team all-league honors as a sophomore and was selected All-Southern Section last season after scoring 15 goals and contributing 20 assists.
No longer does he have the coach or much of the supporting cast that helped the Golden Knights to their first Del Rey League title and to the semifinals of the 3-A playoffs last season.
Beall's biggest setback came before school started when Cherif Zein was replaced as coach by Appels, the school's junior varsity coach for two years.
Zein had been Beall's coach and mentor on several youth and club teams and was one of the main reasons Beall said he opted to attend St. Francis.
"It was real tough transition," Beall said of his adjustment to playing for another coach. "I was rebellious at the beginning. . . . I figured I could do it on my own."
Once the season began, however, it was apparent that Beall could not.
With the graduation of high-scoring Bobby Guerrero, teams began focusing their attention almost solely on Beall.
"Last year they (opponents) weren't keying on David--he was one guy to watch," Appels says. "This year, he draws a lot of shadows."
And elbows. And knees. "I'm getting banged around a lot," Beall says. "I'm out here getting hammered every single play."
The long-term sting of the blows has been lessened some by the still-improving play of an already strong St. Francis team.
Midfielder Erik Franken, who has five goals and 10 assists, sweeper Mike Rendon and stopper Jason Sinner all have played key roles in the Golden Knights' fast start.
"Those kids weren't central to the team last season, but this year they've really stepped forward and taken control," Appels says. "It's made us a much stronger team and gives David some room to do some things."
Beall, who lives in Glendale, began playing soccer when he was 6, and was playing at the club level by the time he was 11.
Soccer has taken him to Central America, Australia, Great Britain and Europe. The travels and competition he has faced have influenced his approach to the sport.
"I got to see the South American style, the European style, the English style, the German style--all that style," he says. "I think I just kind of throw it all in."
Beall has been contacted by several Division I schools, including Santa Clara, UCLA, Stanford and the University of San Diego. He's anxious to join Guerrero, Bill Durkin, Anton Nistl and other former St. Francis players who have gone on to play at the collegiate level.
But before moving on, Beall is hoping to help bring St. Francis its first Southern Section soccer championship.
"We're a pretty well-rounded team with no superstars," Beall says. "Everyone is just helping out all over the place.
"We're getting into a team mode and I think we can do it."