Kevin Cardillo worked for years for one big senior season in football, and all it took was one pop to pretty much end his dream.

The Bishop Eustace senior was looking to start at linebacker and dutifully made every offseason workout and envisioned a season full of tackles.

After tweaking his groin during training camp, he heard it pop a few weeks later while making a cut during a regular-season game. Cardillo never fully recovered. He missed most of the football season, although he returned to play for the Crusaders in their Thanksgiving rivalry with Pennsauken.

"I was looking so forward to my senior football season, so it was obviously very frustrating," Cardillo said.

"He probably would have been a starter or played a decent-sized role," Eustace football coach Rob Cormier said. "He had a great offseason."

And as frustrating as his football season was, that is how exhilarating Cardillo's final scholastic sports season has been.

Cardillo never played lacrosse until his junior year, when classmates persuaded him that there was a need for a goalie. He was a junior-varsity starter as a junior and has the same role on varsity this year.

Despite his relative inexperience, Cardillo has been a big part of a Eustace team that had the first home playoff game in the four-year history of the program, and is battling for the Olympic Conference National Division title.

And just last week, the West Deptford resident was named to the second-team all-conference lacrosse team.

"I had no words when I was told about that honor," Cardillo said. "I just never thought of it."

After the football season, Cardillo decided to throw himself, literally, into lacrosse, diving to save one shot after another. He went through rigorous workouts with teammates such as Sterling Long, a third-year captain who fired shot upon shot on the senior goalie.

"He was always asking people to shoot on him," said Long, who will continue his education and lacrosse career at York. "And with all the work, he made unbelievable strides in the offseason."

No wonder his teammates voted Cardillo the Crusaders' most improved player.

"There were games this year that he made saves that put us over the hump," Eustace coach Ray Carlin said. "He dove into learning as much as possible about the position, and he hasn't looked back."

Cardillo concedes that it was difficult to keep his spirits up while sidelined during football.

Despite the disappointment, Cardillo said he was inspired by teammates such as lineman Frank McConnell, who continually attempted to pick him up.

"Frank kept telling me to keep fighting, and what kept me going was the support of him and my teammates," Cardillo said.

And he has received that same type of support in lacrosse. His teammates realized that Cardillo didn't have much experience, but they continually encouraged him.

"Being out with these guys has been awesome," he said.

And now the 5-foot-9, 160-pound goalie/linebacker is looking to continue competing in lacrosse. Cardillo will attend Division I Mount St. Mary's (Md.) and plans to be a lacrosse walk-on. He was promised that he would be given a chance, and that's all Cardillo has asked for.

No matter how he will fare Cardillo is grateful for the chance to compete in a varsity sport as a senior, turning a frustrating fall season into a memorable spring.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225, mnarducci@phillynews.com, or @sjnard on Twitter.