NORCROSS - Thom Jacquet coaches one of Georgia's most talented boys soccer teams, but in practices one player in particular stands out.
Spartan defenders typically have a tough time against senior Sam Arthur. Then again, so do most high school players.
The South Carolina signee's combination of skill, speed and strength make him one of the state's top players and a member of the U.S. Under-18 Men's National Team pool. Not surprisingly, Jacquet considers his star player's future bright.
"(His potential's) unlimited," the longtime GAC coach said. "I watch great players and I really think, 'How far off is he?' I was in England a couple of months ago and I watched Charlton and West Ham's U-18s play, and I'm looking at all their players and I'm thinking, 'He's here, easily.'
"I'm hopeful that it goes well for him, national team or whatever. I've seen a lot of players in 16 years and I have not seen many like him that have absolutely the complete package."
Jacquet had heard that Arthur was a player from his older brother, John Arthur. A GAC player who went on to play at Mercer, John told the Spartan coaches that his little brother was very good.
He wasn't lying.
The younger Arthur brother made an immediate impact as a GAC freshman, scoring the game-winning goal with 16 seconds left in a state quarterfinal win over Aquinas. To properly describe the goal, Jacquet rises out of his chair and re-enacts the sequence of passes that led to Arthur beating his defender and scoring with a low shot.
"That was definitely my favorite goal (of high school)," Arthur said.
Through three seasons, Arthur has a few goals to choose from. He went on to score a school-record 26 goals as a sophomore, then had 21 goals and 15 assists last season as the Spartans finished as Class AA/A runner-up.
His combination of strengths has caused problems the past two seasons, and Jacquet doesn't see it ending any time soon.
"Just the combination of 180 pounds of speed and power, the kids just can't handle him," Jacquet said. "There's not a weakness, whether it's finishing with his right or left or in the air. He's a great passer, so if you try and take him out of the game we have a bunch of other guys who can hurt you."
Arthur uses his speed and moves to get past defenders, but he's known just as much for his strength. He physically overpowers some defenders, and holds others off as possesses the ball and looks for open teammates.
He said he has always had to play with physical intensity, mainly because he played two years up most of his time in youth soccer.
"I always felt like it was a better challenge for me going up against bigger and stronger players," Arthur said. "It gave me more of a physical and mental challenge. I had to play quicker because I wasn't as strong as those guys. I had to mature faster.
"I always played with my brother in soccer, too. He was always bigger and older."
Now Arthur is the older one, at least on his high school team. He deferred to older Spartans in terms of his leadership his first two seasons at GAC, before developing more as a leader in 2006.
Now he will be needed more than ever as GAC seeks the state championship.
"He's always had guys above him where he never really had to be the leader," Jacquet said. "Last year he really emerged that way, but this year he has an expanded leadership role. He's the face of our team. He's going to have to accept the hard challenges and the referee decisions, when all of that stuff doesn't go his way."
The last time Arthur and his GAC teammates stepped on the field for a game, it didn't go their way. A senior-laden Pace Academy team denied the Spartans a state championship, but the majority of the GAC players are back this season with one goal in mind.
"We've just been working hard and we want to win," Arthur said.
"We feel it's our time. We've gotten so close and we haven't gotten our ring. This year we want to get it."