Smyrna’s Guzman not just standing still

DOVER — Jack Guzman has traveled enough that he knows what to expect now.

But the recent Smyrna High grad is also always surprised by something when he goes with his church group to give medical assistance to the poor in other countries.

“There’s always at least one or two things every trip that just shock you,” said Guzman. “Usually, we’ll go to the cities (in India) but this year we went out to a village. It’s like something you see see in the movies.”

The experience always helps keep Guzman grounded.

It also helped him realize that the job of being a leader for the Eagles’ lacrosse team this past year was nothing compared to some of the realities of the world.

“If we can help these people and organize such a big group and get things done. … I’ve got a bunch of guys that are my age,” Guzman said with a smile. “It can’t be that hard to wrangle these dudes.”

All things considered, it was a pretty good season for both the Eagles and Guzman, who will cap off his high school career by playing in the Blue-White All-Star Game today at 8 p.m. at Dover High. The girls’ all-star game starts at 6 p.m.

Being chosen for the all-star contest is a nice accomplishment for a kid who only started playing the sport as a freshman.

Guzman came into his own as a senior, netting 42 goals and 19 assists as Smyrna reached the DIAA state tournament for the third time in four years. His 61 total points were just one shy of tying the school single-season record.

And it came after Guzman collected just 29 goals and five assists in his first three seasons combined.

“He had a natural knack for the game,” said Eagles’ coach Mike Zulkowski. “There was one game in particular against St. Mark’s his sophomore year, where he came out of nowhere and scored a really nice goal. All of the coaching staff kind of looked at each other like, ‘Where did this kid come from?’”

“Watching him progress over the years has been fun,” said Smyrna teammate Jared Mullen, who will also play in today’s all-star game. “He started a little bit before me. He’s better than me, obviously.”

“I had to put in a lot of work in the off-season to get better — especially this last year before senior year,” said Guzman. “I really wanted to make a big impact. I just fell in love with the sport. When you do that, you really want to get better at it.”

Zulkowski said Guzman deserves a lot of credit for making himself into both a better player and leader.

The Eagles lost 11 seniors from a 19-man roster the year before. With Guzman one of only five seniors on this year’s squad, Zulkowski made it clear that he was going to have to step up if Smyrna was going to be successful again.

“All summer he was getting the kids out playing together,” said Zulkowski. “And he was making sure that the kids were there for their winter league. It was pretty phenomenal. You didn’t really have to talk to him a whole lot about it.

“He’s a self-paced kid where he challenges himself. We set goals down in front of him. But he sets his own goals. Individually, he knew what he wanted to do. But from a team aspect, it was always ‘we’ before ‘me.’ I think that’s one of the most impressive things about the kid.”

Smyrna ended up winning six of its final seven games to earn the last spot in the 16-team state tourney. The Eagles weren’t even really sure they were in until the bracket came out.

“It was pretty exciting,” said Mullen. “I’m just glad that we made it to the tournament. It’s always fun.”

“Just making the tournament is a big deal for us,” said Guzman. “And we had a young team this year. Everybody was pretty pumped just to go play.”

Zulkowski said he didn’t even know about the volunteer work that Guzman did with his church at first. Guzman has been to India three times and to Peru once with Crossroads Presbyterian of Middletown.

There was an off-season stretch of about a month when Zulkowski said he couldn’t get in touch with Guzman.

“I’m like, ‘Has anybody seen Jack?’” said Zulkowski. “They’re like, ‘I think he’s on a trip or something.’ He came back and explained what he was doing and I was like, ‘Holy smokes.’ It’s pretty crazy.

“Whatever he does, he’s going to be successful, because he has a drive that is unparalleled from some of the kids I’ve seen.”

The 17-year-old Guzman plans on majoring in nursing at Wesley College, where he’s also going to play lacrosse. He’d like to do more to help people after he graduates.

“It’s a total culture shock,” Guzman said about the trips. “And it really grounds you, too. It’s about something a little bit bigger.

“I’d already been considering it (going into health care). But getting some hands-on experience, I was like, ‘This is for me.’”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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