CHATHAM, NJ - Coaches often make the observation that certain senior athletes have matured and grown into their roles as leaders.
When it comes to Nick DiMaggio, it's obvious that the Chatham soccer player has grown physically, sprouting four inches in height over the summer. That maturation process continued into the first game of the 2018 season when DiMaggio showed how much he had grown into a team leader as well.
On Sept. 5, Chatham fell behind Morris Catholic by three goals early in the second half but rallied to win the game, 4-3, culminated by DiMaggio's overtime goal set up by senior classmate Aedan Joel.
"Nicky has grown into a leader on this team for sure," Chatham coach Mark Maka said. "He's tasted some success and he's tasted defeat over the last two years. He's come into his senior year seeing that we have a pretty good team here. He's stepped up into a good leadership role."
DiMaggio, who also was credited with an assist in the comeback against Morris Catholic, broke a two-year personal scoring drought with his winning goal. His only other career goal was scored as a sophomore.
Nick DiMaggio is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
Preseason injuries kept DiMaggio from starting the season opener, but he came off the bench to make his presence felt from his left midfield slot, where he has more room to get into the offensive scheme.
"He's a three-year starter for us," Maka said. "He grew a lot since last season. He didn't play in any scrimmages, so we didn't get to see him much. He didn't start the match, but he obviously finished it."
At the end of last season, Maka told DiMaggio that he needed to see more results on the offensive end in his senior year. Moving from center midfield to the flank made a difference.
"We're playing a little bit of a different system, tailored to this group with him in mind," Maka said. "We challenged him at the end of last year. He's been a great player for us for two years, but now we need some production out of him. Goals, assists. You can't always put numbers to it. The pass that led to the assist that led to the goal. We feel he's played well, but he needed to put a little more on his shoulders as a senior now."
The plan has worked out great so far. Chatham has scored seven goals in winning its first two games and DiMaggio has been doing his part with a goal and two assists.
According to DiMaggio, size does matter when it comes to soccer. Last season he played at 5-2, but shot up to 5-6 over the summer.
"I've been the smallest one on the field ever since I started playing," the 17-year-old said. "Coming in this year it felt different. I looked around and I wasn't the smallest one on the field. That might have given me some confidence, too.
"I've been in the middle ever since I've been playing. It's kind of a switch (left midfield). It gives me more of an attacking ability. With height comes a little bit of speed. I used to get beat in every single foot race, but I'm starting to win a few just because my strides are bigger and that probably plays a role. When I went into shoulder-to-shoulder tackles, I used to get knocked off the ball. I'm winning more of those tackles and I feel stronger."
DiMaggio inherited some soccer pedigree from his father, Peter, a first-team All-American at Columbia University and the Ivy League Player of the Year in 1991. His younger siblings, Michael, 15, and 12-year-old Luke, also play the game.
DiMaggio, who takes the free kicks and corner kicks for Chatham, pointed out that the work leading up to the winning goal was Joel's.
"I had to give all the credit to Aedan Joel, he beat three defenders and cut it back to me at the far post and I just tapped it in," DiMaggio said.
In addition to soccer, DiMaggio enjoys snowboarding, but he's picked up a new passion over the summer - surfing.
"I learned how to surf while we were on vacation in Hawaii," he said. "I can see myself doing a lot of surfing next summer."
Editor's note: The Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week is sponsored by the John Hawk Agency. John and his team have been protecting local families and business owners for over 12 years. Call them at 973-635-9494 for a new auto, home, life and business insurance quote this week and if you mention the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week they will make a $20 contribution to the Chatham Booster Club! To learn more, visit the agency website.