When Santiago Muriel is finished playing soccer, he says he wants to be an international businessman. He plans to study the subject at UConn, where he's joining the school's top-flight soccer program.
Born in Norwalk, Muriel spent eight years of his youth living in Colombia, and he returns every six months or so to visit relatives.
He's long had an interest in international business because it suits his strengths, said Muriel, who attends the Academy of Information Technology & Engineering in Stamford.
"I handle both languages well, Spanish and English," Muriel, 18, said. "I travel a lot. I'm very good with numbers and I'm very good at talking. It's just something I've liked for a while. It's different."
Muriel, a difference-maker on Norwalk's 2012 Class LL championship soccer team, scored 12 goals and added 16 assists for the Bears last season as the team went 21-1-1, its lone loss to Wilton during the regular season.
The team was also co-champs of the FCIAC.
A four-year varsity member, Muriel played forward last season, but he is comfortable playing the back positions as well.
"At our ID camp last year we fell in love with him," Reid said. "I think he's a good player. When it gets into this environment, he's got room for growth. He seems versatile, can play a couple of different spots. I think he's got good technique and good quickness. We're excited about him coming."
Muriel will be joining former Norwalk teammate Nic Zuniga, who is finishing up his freshman year at UConn and played important minutes for the Huskies this past season.
UConn, the 2000 NCAA national champion, was the No. 4 seed in the 2012 NCAA tournament and lost to Creighton in the quarterfinals.
Like Zuniga, Muriel will have to transition from being a star player to a role player when he first joins the UConn program, but Muriel said Zuniga, a close friend, has apprised him of how to adapt.
"I've been playing with Nic for such a long time, and he's already told me what to expect and what not to expect. How practices are, and things like that," Muriel said.
Beyond his speed, ball skills, and knowledge of the game, Muriel sets himself apart with a level-headed demeanor, said Norwalk coach Chris Laughton. Muriel was a captain on last year's team and led by example.
"He's a cool and calm under pressure, doesn't really get too emotional or caught up, which is good because you need someone who can stay cool under pressure, and he's definitely one of those guys," Laughton said. "Didn't matter who we were playing, didn't matter what the circumstances of the game were, he really maintained a pretty good balance for us. Luckily, being a captain, it spread to the other guys as well."
The college game is faster and more physical than high school soccer, but Laughton likened the leap to what players encounter when moving from middle school to high school.
"(Muriel) is smart enough and he's a good enough player that he should be able to make that transition," Laughton said.
Muriel, recognizing the chasm between high school and college play, has been working on his skills and stamina.
"I'm always working on my feet, working on my fitness. I've been going to the gym a little bit more. So it's just the determination to get better, to focus on that," he said.