Chris Laughton, head coach of the Norwalk High boys soccer team, has been involved with the sport long enough to know that the goal scorers generally scoop up the accolades.
"As a society, no matter what sport it is, the person who usually scores the most goals or the most points gets all the recognition and notoriety. There's a lot of guys, whether it be a midfielder, a defender or a goalkeeper, they just kind of do the dirty work day in and day out, and maybe don't get as much publicity," said Laughton, who's been at the helm for the last four seasons. "I think unless you're on that team, and you're working every single day, day in and day out, you might not recognize that from an outsider's perspective."
In delivering the most successful run in program history, with 38 wins and four straight appearances in the state tournament, the Bears were anchored by a plethora of do-it-all talents. At midfield, Jake Zuniga spearheaded an offense that outscored opponents 70-16 last year and his efforts were recognized, as he recently verbally committed to play soccer for Division I Fairfield University, beginning in the fall. He has yet to set a date to sign his National Letter of Intent, but plans to put pen to paper "very soon."
"It's really a privilege of mine," he said of the opportunity to play at the next level.
Zuniga, an all-state and all-FCIAC first-team selection in 2010, also seriously considered UConn and Central Connecticut State, but ultimately settled on Fairfield for reasons related to both the soccer pitch and the classroom.
"With UConn, I was least interested because I wasn't sure about the playing time I would get there. Central and Fairfield, it was really close. It actually came to the decision which school I would rather go to where I could find myself enjoying myself more. And I thought I was getting the better education at Fairfield," said Zuniga, who plans to major in marketing.
At Fairfield, Zuniga joins a program that won six games in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last season. Although he anticipates getting minutes on the pitch, he's aware that it will come with dedicated training. "If I'm not prepared for it, then it's not going to happen. So I just need to make sure to keep on top of my game, to earn it really," he said.
Following a rigorous regimen shouldn't be a problem for Zuniga, who Laughton praised for his work ethic and commitment to improving, mentioning, "He was a three-year starter and every single year he came back stronger, an all-around better player every single season. That's just a credit to him putting in the work in the offseason and coming in prepared and making an impact."
The talented midfielder helped lead Norwalk to a conference-best 13-2 record last season and a berth in the second round of the Class LL state tournament.
"It's a great opportunity to go play Division I and get a half-scholarship to do it. Not many people can say they did that at an established program like Fairfield," Laughton noted. "I'm really proud of him for what he's done and I know he's starting to see all the hard work he has put in over the four years that he was at Norwalk High paying off."
For the last eight years, Zuniga has played for Beachside Soccer Club, a Connecticut-based premier team founded and directed by former professional player Mickey Kydes. Zuniga's teammate at Norwalk, forward Andres Torres (all-New England honoree last season), has played alongside him with Beachside for multiple seasons.
With a rich soccer background, Zuniga believes he possesses the skill to compete collegiately but knows there's more he must work on.
"Physically it's a lot more challenging of a game, but technically, I think I'll fit in really well," Zuniga said. "I've pretty much been really good technically my entire life. I just need to make sure I can catch up to the physical nature of it."
He added, "My strength is definitely the technical side of my game. I'm better with the ball on my feet."