Does Russell Cicerone really need any qualifiers? After Jon Jones I don't think there's a more recognizable name not playing football or basketball for UB. But if I ran this series without highlighting him, well, that would be wrong.
No UB team in 2014 hung more on single student-athlete like Men's Soccer did Russell Cicerone. The then-sophomore improved on his MAC Freshman of the Year campaign in 2013 by potting ten goals to lead the Bulls by a long margin. No UB player had hit double digits since Steve Butcher and Tim Songer both managed it in 1999. Add in three assists, good for third on the team, and Cicerone had a hand in 13 of UB's 19 goals on the season.
Cicerone (2G, 2A) leads UB in rout over Bonnies
It was cold and drizzly, and nearly every fan in attendance was squeezed in the very back row of UB Stadium's 200 sections, where you can get the slightest bit of protection from the rain. The Men's Soccer team, however, made it fun despite the rain, scoring three first-half goals on the way to a 4-0 victory over St. Bonaventure.
Beyond points and scoring, Russ' importance to the team was clear late in the season, when an early injury against West Virginia removed him from the match and hampered his effectiveness against Akron. The Mountaineers and Zips were the clear top teams in the conference, but UB fell to both by a combined 7-0 after a 1-0-2 showing against the rest of the conference.
If you're watching UB Soccer for the first time, it's not hard to find Cicerone. He's the one who makes things happen and will go anywhere to do it. Listed as a midfielder, Russ is most dangerous with the ball on his feet, and doesn't ever go long without finding an opportunity. For the last two years, "Russ with the ball on his feet" has been the most dangerous UB option, as well, and Cicerone has generated as many chances as the most prolific Zips, Mountaineers, and Bowling Green Falcons.
Outside of Buffalo, Cicerone has turned heads in the amateur ranks, as well, starring for FC Buffalo and being named to the All-NPSL First XI in 2014, and playing this summer with the Michigan Bucks of the Premier Development League, potting eight goals in ten games as the Bucks fell just two games short of a second consecutive national championship.
Another of Stu Riddle's WMU recruits who followed the coach to Western New York, Cicerone brings a dynamism that UB hasn't seen in 15 years. He's not only the first since Butcher to post double-digit scoring, but also the first to be twice named First Team All-MAC since Butcher - UB's all-time leading scorer - graduated.
There's only so far a single player can carry a team, though. Even considering that college soccer was much higher-scoring 15 years ago, Butcher still played alongside three more of Buffalo's all-time leading scorers. Cicerone is excellent, and deservedly the focal point of the team. He'll likely once again earn postseason conference honors. But the successful spring season showed that UB may be ready to take a big step forward as a team, as both Scott Doney and Marcus Hanson scored several goals over the ten-game stretch.
That's not to say there won't be room for Cicerone to keep scoring. He did, after all, lead the Bulls during the spring with 10 goals and nine assists. It's much more likely that rather than the newfound offensive balance chipping into Russ' numbers there's just far more scoring to go around. But you can bet it'll be clear all season long who the engin is for Buffalo.