BENNINGTON -- Stay calm and pass the ball to Brad Anair.
It starts out as a cheesy reference, but for the Mount Anthony Union High School boys soccer team, it's a statement of fact nonetheless.
As the Patriots head into the Division I playoffs with a 10-4 record -- its best record since 2002 -- and an opening-round game at Spinelli Field next week, it is easy to look around the team and find top performers at every position.
But in the middle of the pitch, at the heart of the engine room, the junior captain Anair is what makes the Patriots tick this season.
"I tell Brad on the sidelines during every game that he is my hero, and it is true," said senior Dylan Prazak. "He just controls the game. He has such class on the ball."
His influence shows in the statistics. The Patriots have notched 42 goals in the regular season, and Anair has contributed nine, second on the team to junior striker Marcus LaFlamme's 18.
But while LaFlamme only has two assists, Anair has eight helpers, being just as valuable passing the ball as well as scoring it.
"For us, he is a calm influence," said coach Mike Molloy. "And he is always in control."
Anair is young for his grade, having just turned 16 in September, scoring a hat trick on his birthday during the John James Tournament. But his age belies his skill level.
"He is the most intelligent player on the team," LaFlamme said. "He knows our players real well, and he just has an eye for the game."
Anair's skill comes from years of practice, putting in the time on teams and in backyards to get to where he is.
"I've been playing my whole life," Anair said. "I've never thought of myself as better than anyone, I was just trying to play with the people around me."
That unselfish mentality is one attribute that the team loves.
"It is really about the team, and I think when we have a leader ... a best player, who is a team-first guy, the rest [of the players] can't help but be team-first," Molloy said. "We have been preaching team-first since forever. It is rare that you have a best player who is team-first."
That shows on the field. When Anair gets the ball in the midfield, he immediately scans the pitch for a teammate.
"I try to get the ball and facilitate everything," Anair said. "When we don't play through our midfield, it gets really sloppy. I try to get the ball and find people, try to keep it simple."
That simplistic approach pays dividends for LaFlamme, one of the leading scorers in the area.
"He makes me a better player because he puts me in certain positions and plays me into space," LaFlamme said. "I don't know what I would do without him. His passes are always on the money."
While Anair can make the killer pass that leads directly to a goal, the junior can also make the pass that allows for someone else to set up an opportunity.
"I think most high school kids are playing the next play," Molloy said. "Brad is playing two or three plays beyond that. He's seeing things that most kids aren't seeing."
For Anair, having the ball at his feet is exactly where he wants it.
"I work on [passing] during the offseason," Anair said. "It's one thing I like. I'd rather make a nice pass than score a goal."
And for a striker like LaFlamme, or an attacking winger like Prazak, it means they have more freedom to roam.
"If you make an open run, no matter how crazy it is, he can probably get it to you," Prazak said.
LaFlamme added that "every time I make a vertical run, the pass is right there on my foot."
Anair credits the understanding with LaFlamme to their time growing up together.
"We've been best friends since we were 5," Anair said. "We have always played together."
And beyond the pair, the whole team has a chemistry that no player has seen before.
"I think we have really good chemistry. Last year, we didn't have that," Anair said. "That has been huge this year, we all get along and we want to work hard for each other."
Prazak agrees, saying that "we can motivate each other, and we work for each other. When I get tired, I look over at my friends and say ‘I'm not doing this for me, I'm doing it for them.'"
Does Anair have a weakness? Molloy notices one, although it is less a fault and more of a mindset issue.
"He looks pass-first, and I'm trying to get him to look forward and attack, then look to pass," Molloy said.
The good news for Patriots fans?
He can still work on that next year.
Geoff Smith is the Assistant Sports Editor at the Bennington Banner. He can be reached at (802)-447-7567 ext. 112, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @GSmith_Banner.