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Sep 25, 2009

Multitalented Boggs leads surging Bulls

What doesn't South Florida forward Zak Boggs excel at?

He's an impressive soccer player. He was the Bulls' second-leading scorer last year as the team won its first Big East title and advanced to the Elite Eight. He was named to the preseason M.A.C. Hermann watch list this season.

As Big East Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year, he's clearly a smart kid. In fact, he finished his degree in biomedical sciences in three years with a 4.0 GPA. He's pursuing his master's in marketing in his final year of eligibility and puts his undergrad degree to use doing public health research.

At the encouragement of his college dean, he's currently in the process of applying for a Rhodes scholarship.

That alone is the kind of résumé most college athletes would love to have, but it's only the beginning of Boggs' credentials.

"Although soccer is my life, some of the stuff I'm most proud of is stuff not really related to soccer," Boggs said.

He volunteers at two hospitals in the Tampa area (the Moffitt Cancer Center and the Shriners Hospital for Children). And he's spent two other summers volunteering at an art museum.

He's an Eagle Scout.

And a black belt. He's earned his second-degree black belt in taekwondo.

And a marble champ. He was the West Virginia state champion.

And an elite jump roper. Boggs has competed in the jump rope nationals -- twice. (But he's quick to tell that's nothing compared to his 16-year-old sister, who is the world champion.)

Obviously, he's mastered the art of time management, as well.

"Once you get busy and know how it is, prioritizing is not a big deal," Boggs said.

"I enjoy the balance," he added. "I wouldn't want to be good at just one thing. I think the diversity makes me a better person."

In truth, maybe the most impressive thing about him isn't just his lengthy list of academic accomplishments or his ability to put the ball past opposing goalkeepers. It's that he's still hungry and has his head on straight.

"Anything he engages in, you know it's going to be done right," Bulls coach George Kiefer said of Boggs. "With soccer being his passion, when he's on the field, he's moving, getting everyone else going, motivating other players. He just brings a ton of energy to our group. In good times and bad times, he's just a guy you can always look to."

So far this season, USF has seen more good times than bad. The team is 5-0-1 and ranked third in the nation. The team had to replace five key starters and made the transition look easy.

"Despite the success we had last year, I don't think we've taken that for granted or thought it was going to be the same way this year," Boggs said. "We've put a lot of thought and intensity into practice, and I think that's showing on the field."

The team also has carried that work ethic over into the classroom, something Kiefer is equally proud of. The Bulls earned recognition last season for making it all the way to the NCAA quarterfinals and by receiving the NSCAA's team academic award, given to teams with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. USF had a 3.14.

And to the coach's delight, the team realizes it's capable of achieving more.

"You have Zak with a 4.0, so now you have other guys trying to do that," Kiefer said of the academic side.

As for the athletic front, the Bulls also have lofty goals.

"The best part is that we've won games, but we still feel like we can get a lot better," Kiefer said. "We have not played our best soccer yet, and we're getting W's and creating a fair amount of chances each time."

It's only fitting that USF sees room for improvement in all facets of its game. Boggs is proof that it's possible to be multitalented. It would be wrong to expect anything less from his team.

Big games coast-to-coast

• A big weekend in college soccer kicks off Friday night as No. 2 North Carolina travels to No. 4 Maryland for a rematch of the 2008 national championship match. While the Tar Heels hold an edge in the rankings, the Terrapins hold home-field advantage and have taken the last eight meetings between these ACC foes. However, you can bet the Terps provided plenty of motivation for UNC during the offseason, and the Tar Heels have no interest in seeing that streak extend to 9-0.

• No. 6 Wake Forest hosts No. 8 Harvard on Saturday. The Crimson are off to a perfect 6-0 start, including a win over Boston University, but this should be a good test to gauge just how good Jaime Clark's squad is. A win over Wake Forest would give Harvard plenty of momentum heading into Ivy League play. The Demon Deacons fell to No. 11 Virginia last week, but got back on track Thursday by beating Elon 2-1. However, Wake Forest will be without All-American defender Ike Opara, who is with the U-20 national team in Egypt.

• The weekend wraps up with a big match in the Big West, as No. 7 UC Santa Barbara takes on No. 23 UC Irvine on Sunday. While the Anteaters are the defending league champions, Santa Barbara is one of the toughest places to play in the nation. As if the Gauchos needed extra motivation, it's their first home game since losing to visiting Loyola Marymount on Sept. 13. UCSB then turns around with another huge game at home against Indiana on Oct. 2.

Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at mariamburns@gmail.com.

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