We wanted Sam to be the star of the game.Mustangs coach DaKota Paradice
GUYTON— DaKota Paradice has devised numerous successful game plans for South Effingham’s boys soccer team. The one he concocted for a Feb. 1 game against Bryan County was truly “exceptional,” however.
Paradice employed a strategy that resulted in a 9-1 win while also delighting every Mustangs player and fan. The contest featured two goals by beloved junior Sam Munoz, an Exceptional Education student who usually serves the varsity squad as its manager.
“We wanted Sam to be the star of the game,” Paradice said. “He was supposed to be the leading scorer but he ended up tied. (The other players) weren’t allowed to score until he scored.”
The Mustangs put their egos aside and focused on making their coach’s plan work. They repeatedly funneled the ball to the autistic Munoz and he staked them a 1-0 lead late in the first half with a powerful kick from the right side.
“If you were to watch film of this game, you would see that we turned around and ran away from the goal a few times after trying to put Sam in a (good) spot,” Paradice said.
The outmanned Region 3-A Redskins didn’t let Munoz score. Both his goals were legitimate. The second came at the start of the second half.
“He did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Paradice said. “We even talked before the game on (Bryan County’s) end. I told them, ‘I don’t want any ‘gimmes’ and he needs to earn it.' It will really come down to my players giving him a chance to succeed."
Paradice was confident Munoz would capitalize on his opportunity because he has the ability to get open on his own.
“He’s good now. I’m telling you,” the coach said. “He will play at lot of JV this year and we will try to get him back out here. He will get to play with his younger brother (Nick) on JV so they will get to be on the field together.”
Paradice’s plan for Munoz took a long time to develop.
“I wanted to do this last year but he kept telling me his jersey was too tight,” Paradice said. “He didn’t want to go into the game with a tight jersey so, during the offseason, we got new jerseys and I made sure that I got one specifically that fit him. The first thing we did this season was say, ‘Hey, you are going to play for us this year, right?’
“He’s been hounding me about it ever since.”
Munoz’s persistence was rewarding for him and his team.
“It was kind of good,” Munoz said the day after his breakout performance. “I got two goals, we had great passes and we won 9-1.
“I played good for the South Effingham Mustangs.”
Munoz was so thrilled about his performance that be broke into the Griddy, a heel-tapping, arm-swinging dance made popular by NFL players, after each of his goals. The maneuver delighted his teammates, who showered him with cheers and hugs.
Munoz’s mother, Lorena, was deeply moved by his performance and the reaction to it.
“He’s going to be excited forever,” she said. “His teammates’ purpose was to help him score. It was really good, amazing.”
“Amazing” is definitely a proper description of what transpired.
“I didn’t even know that he was going to play this year,” she said. “Then his coach says, ‘I am going to let him play.’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’
“He said, ‘I got this.’ ”
Munoz is well versed in the rules of soccer. He picked them up while being allowed to practice with his brother’s youth teams.
“He knows what he’s doing,” his mother said.
Munoz acted nonchalant about his accomplishment after the game. He didn’t join his team in the locker room.
“He left right away,” Mrs. Munoz said. “He said, ‘I did my job and I am going home.’ ”
The proud mother is thrilled that the team gave her son a moment in the spotlight.
“Those boys, their hearts are in the right place,” she said. “I am very grateful that we live in the community that we live in. Everybody loves him at school ...”
Principal Dr. Torian White agrees.
“No matter what’s on my mind during the day, whenever I see Sam and hear, ‘Hello, Dr. White,’ in his upbeat voice, I have to smile,” White said.
Mrs. Munoz is grateful that White, Paradice and the soccer team understand and appreciate Sam and his special needs.
“He has friends everywhere,” she said. “Everywhere we go, there is somebody who knows Samuel — either a student or an adult.”
Sam is more vocal than most people with autism, Mrs. Munoz said.
“He is very social and he remembers everybody by their name,” she said. “I think that is an amazing thing because I can’t do that. If you tell him you like a team from football, he will remember that and talk about it every time he sees you. He loves sports and he loves people.
“I don’t think Samuel thinks that he is different.”
Paradice said Munoz’s talkative nature is helpful to his team.
“He’s probably the best leader I’ve got out here,” he said. “He hypes all the guys up.”
Munoz was named the captain for the Bryan County game.
“I’m glad that he had the night that he did,” Paradice said. “It was awesome.”