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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC senior captain Jordan Gafa ready to lead men's soccer team into the post season

	Jordan Gafa dribbles the ball against Campbell.

Jordan Gafa dribbles the ball against Campbell.

While many North Carolina student athletes prefer to zoom between traffic on scooters, North Carolina men’s soccer’s redshirt senior captain Jordan Gafa travels the Chapel Hill roads in something a bit sturdier — a black Hummer H1.

Gafa’s father promised him he would buy him the car if the San Diego, Calif., native earned an athletic scholarship, and when Gafa delivered, securing one of the last spots in UNC’s 2008 recruiting class, his father made good on the promise.

As Gafa and his father were waiting to be picked up from the airport in San Diego after signing with the Tar Heels, Gafa spotted the exact type of car he wanted.

He told his dad, “That Hummer right there— I want the same one.”

When Gafa realized that it was his mom, siblings and a few friends pulling up to greet him in the car, his older brother, Justin, said his reaction was “priceless.”

While Gafa’s more reserved than his flashy car indicates, his teammate Daniel Tannous, who has shared a room with Gafa for the past two years, can see the similarities between his friend and the Hummer.

“Jordan’s the type of kid where when you walk into a room you’re definitely going to notice him,” Tannous said. “So I guess you can kind of compare him to his car, because when he’s driving everywhere you can notice him.”

But not all the attention he’s received from the car has been positive.

While Tannous said “country kids” admire the car for its off-roading capability, he and Gafa agreed that the car is an unwelcome presence in Carrboro, where it has elicited a few obscene gestures from environmentally friendly citizens.

“When I go to Wendy’s, I definitely get some looks over there,” Gafa said. “They don’t like it. They don’t think too much of it over there.”

Despite owning a flashy car, Gafa’s entrance into college was much quieter.

He was a member of a recruiting class that ranked fourth in the nation and featured freshmen Billy Schuler, Kirk Urso and Sheanon Williams, all of whom played for the U-17 national team. Gafa was less well-known.

“Jordan was the only kid who was the underdog, who no one really knew,” Justin Gafa said.

The defender found that the talent throughout the program would make it hard to find playing time.

“You come from where you’re the best player, like in San Diego, until you get here and you see all the talent and how much more drilling and experience you need,” Jordan Gafa said.

By not overextending himself while he was on the field, Gafa proved his value.

“It can be frustrating at times when you think you should be playing over someone,” Gafa said. “But the times I got in, I just did the simple things when I got on the field.”

Slowly, he saw more playing time, and after earning just five starts in his first three years, he started 24 of 26 games in 2011.

Gafa has led the nation’s top backline this season, which has allowed just four goals in 18 games, as the lone veteran presence among three underclassmen — sophomores Boyd Okwuonu and Jordan McCrary and freshman Jonathan Campbell.

Gafa scored the game-winner against Duke in Durham. After senior Cameron Brown knotted the game at one to send it to overtime, Gafa ended it with a golden goal.

The goal, a beautiful strike taken from the top right corner of the penalty box and launched with Gafa’s left foot to the top left corner of the net, sent Gafa racing back to his teammates with his shirt ripped off to celebrate.

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“I’ve been the type of kid where I guess you can say rival games, I’ve always shown up for them,” Gafa said. “We were down in the second half, and we still come back and win, so it’s just one of those stories.

“Definitely a moment I’ll never forget, especially with Cam Brown who scored too.”

In a big moment in last season’s NCAA title game, Gafa rose to the occasion again, helping stave off a late barrage of shots that threatened to send the final into overtime.

The Tar Heels went on to claim the NCAA title, making the 2011 season one the most storied in the program’s history, and it came under the leadership of their beloved captain, Urso.

On Aug. 5, Urso died at the age of 22 as a result of a genetic heart defect.

Gafa, his friend since they both arrived in 2008, spoke at Urso’s funeral and read a letter Urso had written during his time in the Carolina Leadership Academy to his team.

“Kirk meant the world to us,” Gafa said. “We’re never going to forget him.”

Tannous said the way Gafa stepped up to read the letter and speak at Urso’s funeral showed Gafa’s qualities as a leader.

“Personally, I would not be able to do that. It’s just too much emotion,” he said. “I was impressed with how he was able to handle himself, and I think the guys fed off that, seeing his strength.

At the recommendation of Gafa, the letter now hangs in the McCaskill Soccer Center for all to read.

As the Tar Heels ready themselves for another postseason and Gafa prepares to graduate at the end of the semester, Gafa said he’s pleased with where his long road has brought him.

“I couldn’t be happier with where I am right now with this program and everything I’ve been through here,” he said. “It definitely makes me proud with my family, my friends and my teammates to say I’m captain of the UNC men’s soccer team.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.