EDWARDSVILLE — At 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, Brent Heinlein might not possess the prototypical body for a soccer player.
But looks can be deceiving, as opponents of the senior forward and midfielder from Edwardsville High discovered this season.
Heinlein plays with his back to the goal, holding the ball long enough for a teammate to get into position to score. If that doesn't happen, Heinlein turns and rips a shot of his own.
"Since we play with one striker up top, it's important for me to hold it and try to get the (other) midfielders up," Heinlein said. "I'm a small guy, but I'm also fit and strong, so I can hold off defenders. It's also good that I'm fast, so I can outrun guys, too."
Heinlein outran other contenders for the Belleville News-Democrat's Player of the Year award, earning the honor in balloting of metro-east coaches.
"I'm shocked and excited," said Heinlein, who had 17 goals and 10 assists. "I didn't know this was coming, but I'm really happy."
Edwardsville won the Class 3A state championship with a 2-1 victory over Wheeling at Hoffman Estates High School.
Heinlein's goal at 39 minutes, 2 seconds put the Tigers ahead 2-0 and proved to be decisive when Wheeling countered with a goal five minutes into the second half.
"This year was a dream come true," Heinlein said. "Our goal is always to make it to state. For me, it was to win state. Accomplishing that goal was amazing. On top of that, I had a good season and really picked it up from last year. This year was just perfect."
Edwardsville coach Mark Heiderscheid paused when asked what Heinlein meant to the Tigers this season.
"Where do you want me to start?" said Heiderscheid, who was recognized as the Coach of the Year.
"To generate any kind of possession, a lot of it's going to go through him," Heiderscheid continued. "He was an ideal player for that. He's very quick, he's very stocky, so anything you play forward, he's going to collect and you just can't knock him off the ball. That's huge. He's so good at winning the ball. He's just so strong."
Heinlein had just three goals and six assists as a junior.
"Last year, he just gets a handful of goals," Heiderscheid said. "We knew this year for us to be successful, he was going to have to score (goals) as well. He did. His finishing ability, whether it be a dead ball or just striking a shot, was markedly improved from last year.
"Last year, he was a good player. But (goal-scoring) made him so much more potent this year. He's more complete."
Heinlein, the son of Scott and Michelle, said he and the Tigers believed early in the season that they had the qualities required to win the championship. They fell short of the tournament in 2012, losing 1-0 to Naperville Central in the super-sectional.
"I knew coming into this year, we had a great team," Heinlein said. "We were only losing four starters. We were all confident. We were more experienced than last year and we thought we had a really good chance of making it to the state finals.
"We struggled a little bit in the middle of the season, but I wasn't really too nervous or scared about that because I knew we were going to pull through."
Heinlein still recalls the feeling when the final seconds ticked off the clock.
"It was great then. It still hasn't sunk in that it's over," Heinlein said. "When we won, I was so relieved. That Wheeling team was really good, so we were defending pretty much the whole second half. When the buzzer went off, hearing everybody scream and running over to my teammates, that was just awesome."
Heinlein has signed with Division II Illinois-Springfield, where he could fill the role of attacking midfielder -- probably his best position. Teammate Josh Kowalis will join him in Springfield. Heinlein, Kowalis and Hayden Hessler were team captains this year at Edwardsville.
"I'm really looking forward to that," Heinlein said of college competition. "I get to play alongside my buddy, Josh Kowalis, too.
"I had some other opportunities, but I really liked UIS. They're up and coming, and also I know a couple of guys going there. That made it a little bit easier to decide."
Heiderscheid said UIS is a perfect fit for Heinlein, who will major in business.
"He gets to play at a school where I know he's going to have success," Heiderscheid said. "And when all is said and done, he's going to have a degree that's going to say it comes from the U of I, and that's a nice degree to have."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.