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Arthur caps record-breaking career with state title

The past few seasons Greater Atlanta Christian's boys soccer team has been plenty good enough to post some lopsided blowouts in the 12-0 to 15-0 range.

But head coach Thom Jacquet chose to substitute liberally when his Spartans took control, so victories that were 6-0 or 7-0 could have been a lot worse for the opposition. The substitutions gave GAC's reserves valuable experience, but it also cut into the playing time of the team's top players, including Sam Arthur, the Daily Post's Boys Player of the Year.

Because of that, Arthur didn't pad his statistics with seven- and eight-goal games like other notable Class AA/A scorers have in recent years. His team played a rugged schedule, and most of his goals came against top-flight competition.

Despite those circumstances, the South Carolina signee's stats are pretty compelling. He holds school records for career goals (89) and career assists (39). His 89 goals, 36 more than the previous record holder, were mostly scored his final three seasons because he was an outside midfielder as a freshman.

But maybe the most noteworthy stat is that in his final three high school seasons, he failed to score in just five games he played in. As a senior, he had 37 goals but played in just 18 games because of mononucleosis and a red card.

And he left the high school field for the final time as a state champion, when the Spartans defeated rival Providence for their first outright state title in soccer.

"In 16 years (at GAC) whether it was players against us or playing for us, he's the best (I've seen)," Jacquet said. "We've had great players, (Danny) Irizarry, Marcus (Hill), but even compared to all those guys, he's at another level. There's just nobody in high school that could stop him. He's a great scorer, a great passer.

"And he was not scoring in blowouts. If he scored two or three goals and we were winning, he was out. I guarantee you he sat five full games this season when we were blowing people out."

Arthur said he didn't mind his limited playing time on occasion, noting that it kept him healthy and gave others valuable experience. It's also hard for him to complain when his team went 21-2 and won the state title.

"There's no real need to embarrass a team when you've got them beat," Arthur said. "It was good experience for the rest of the team. They'll be starting and playing one day."

Arthur's senior season was a roller coaster ride from start to finish.

He entered the year with high hopes after taking over the team captain armband prior to the season. But mono cost him three full games (including GAC's two losses to Pace Academy and Grayson) and parts of two others.

When Arthur returned, he and GAC became a juggernaut. The Spartans ripped through their opposition with relative ease until the second round of the state tournament, a 4-2 win over Fellowship Christian.

Arthur, unhappy with a foul committed by a Fellowship player, received a red card late in the second half.

"The kid was coming full speed for me after I crossed the ball," Arthur said of the incident. "Obviously I'm going to protect myself. I wasn't even on the offensive. I'm not going to let him hit me. Then I got a yellow card and the kid didn't get anything.

"I expressed my displeasure and (the referee) gave me a red, which I've never heard of happening, especially a straight red. But that was the referee's decision and you have to live with it."

The red card was an anomaly from Arthur's behavior most of the season. He received his fair share of cards in previous seasons, but had just one yellow all season until the Fellowship game.

He managed to keep his cool most of the year, Jacquet said, even though teams put extra defensive attention on him and attempted to coax him into card-able offenses.

"To his credit, except for that game, he was above it," Jacquet said.

Not surprisingly, the GAC coach wasn't pleased with Arthur's red card in the second round. But neither was the star forward, who was forced to sit out the Spartans' quarterfinal mismatch vs. Toombs County as well as a difficult semifinal game vs. Walker, which his team won 3-1.

"I was really disappointed in myself and for letting my team down," Arthur said. "I was disappointed about losing my cool for a minute. But I felt like the team could get there without me. I was confident the team could get us to the championship."

Once they did, Arthur was back to being unstoppable.

He scored two goals in a 4-2 win over Providence in the finals, including the fourth goal to put his team up 4-1. In celebration of that goal, a perfectly placed left-footed volley, he ran over to the GAC student section and climbed into the stands.

When the celebration ended, Arthur got his second yellow card (the other was for a first-half foul) to equal a red. His season ended a bit prematurely with a surprising card for celebration, but it didn't matter too much when his team hoisted the state championship trophy a short time later.

The win culminated an outstanding run for GAC soccer and its star player.

"You look at where we've been his four years, final four, quarterfinals, finals and then we won it," Jacquet said. "It was a great way to finish the career he had. We wanted to end it with a championship.

"He was a champion and he left as a champion. That's what he worked for."

The work started a year prior, when GAC lost to Pace in the 2006 state championship game. The Spartans made up for it this spring with the coveted AA/A title that just escaped them the year before.

"It was awesome," Arthur said. "Coming into the season we felt like it was our year to win the state championship. We felt like we deserved it. After coming so close last year, it felt even better. We were hungry for it."