When Quinnipiac University men’s soccer freshman phenom Philip Suprise arrived at Pius XI High School one morning last fall, he was surprised to find out that ESPN had recognized him for his superb soccer achievements.
“I didn’t even know I was featured on ESPN until my homeroom teacher told me,” Suprise, 18, said. “My parents didn’t even know about it until after.”
Suprise was honored as one of the ESPN RISE’s Athletes of the Week from the Midwest region at the end of last September for stringing together four stellar performances in high school competition. He tallied 10 goals and four assists to lead Milwaukee Pius XI to four straight victories.
As one of the top high school recruits in the nation, he came to Quinnipiac with high expectations.
He joins the Bobcats as the Wisconsin state leader in goals (54) and assists (25) during a single season, which he established as a senior, and was named the Gatorade/ESPN Player of the Year runner-up.
He leaves Pius XI High School as the all-time leading scorer in Wisconsin history with 115 goals and 58 assists, and was an all-state selection three times and an All-Midwest selection twice.
A broken leg in his freshman and part of his sophomore years in high school opened the door to choosing his major for college.
“I was in PT for about six months and just decided I wanted to do that in a school that has the best program for it,” Suprise said.
Suprise spoke on the phone with Quinnipiac men’s soccer head coach Eric Da Costa last fall about the school’s highly regarded physical therapy program.
“Us being able to offer him academically what he was looking for and coupled with the strength of our soccer program made it a good fit,” Da Costa said.
Suprise is enrolled in the 6 1/2 Year physical therapy program, which is nationally recognized by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education of the American Physical Therapy Association, according to Quinnpiac’s Web site.
The two-time Milwaukee area player of the year has fit in smoothly with the team since day one, according to Da Costa.
“When he first came in for his official visit, the team welcomed him with open arms,” Da Costa said. “By the end of the weekend, it was like he was part of the team already.”
There was hardly any transition period for Suprise when he joined Quinnipiac’s soccer team – a team with 10 foreign-born players.
“He actually plays for a club called the Croatian Eagles,” Da Costa said. “Milwaukee’s a very diverse city, and the soccer leagues are ethnically based. He’s definitely been exposed to that before.”
Suprise’s father, Scott, has coached his son on his club and high school teams for his entire career.
“He is a great coach,” Suprise said of his father. “He has played his whole life and has a great sense for the game.”
Da Costa, the 2007 NSCAA/adidas North Atlantic Division I Coach of the Year, said Suprise was an extremely coachable player too.
“He actually craves the feedback, the criticism and the direction to help him become a better player,” he said.
“I use it as a tool for getting better,” Suprise said. “It’s never anything personal to get yelled at because of everyone’s passion for the game.”
Suprise’s 5-foot-8-inch, 155-pound frame may seem a bit small for a Division I soccer forward, but Da Costa denied such claims emphatically.
“There’s such a premium placed on size in Division I soccer, which is an invalid premium,” Da Costa said. “The best players in the world are 5 foot 4 inches and 5 foot 5 inches.
“He’s got the edge over some of the top players in the world, when it comes to size. It’s about how big you play, not how big you are when you play.”
Suprise, who started learning the game when he was 4, played 271 minutes and 48 seconds for Quinnipiac before finding an opening for his first collegiate goal. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
An estimated 614 fans filtered into the bleachers around Quinnipiac’s soccer field to watch the Bobcats take on Iona on Sept. 19. Suprise’s opening came 39 minutes into the game, and with his team trailing 2-1.
After dribbling past two defenders, he spun around another defender within the 18-yard box and fired a shot off the right post that went into the back of the net.
“I didn’t know how to react at first,” Suprise said. “It was very surreal. Once I saw the referee point to the middle of the circle, I savored the moment and hugged all my teammates.”
Da Costa said the goal alleviated some of the pressure, giving Suprise the confidence he needed to know he could compete at this higher level of play.
Leading the time in shots and shots-on-goal is one way to prove that he can compete in the Northeast Conference. With the absence of several players due to injury, Suprise has taken on the second-most minutes of any other Bobcats’ forward. His three points are tied for second on the team.
He has some big cleats to fill in his Quinnipiac soccer career, as the 2008 NEC Player of the Year and the NEC leading scorer, Graciano Brito, graduated last spring. How much of an impact Suprise makes will depend on how much he is willing to push himself, Da Costa said.
“He has more of a proven track record than Graciano did,” Da Costa said. “I just hope he has the heart and the desire to work as hard as Brito did to become as good as Brito was.”