Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett soccer player Paige Scarbrough is headed to Duke University on an academic scholarship. Scarbrough wishes to become a physician and is now enrolled in six AP classes at North Gwinnett High School.
Paige Scarbrough is the only senior on North Gwinnett girls soccer team not going to play in college.
Which isn't a knock on her athletic ability.
It's a testament to her intelligence and willingness to work hard to get into a top-10 school.
Scarbrough is going to Duke in the fall, leaving a game she's played all her life in favor of an academic scholarship to one of the best universities in the country.
"I went through phases where it would be one school I liked a lot, but it was always one school and Duke," said Scarbrough, who plans to study biology as a step toward medical school. "I was looking at Brown for a really long time and ultimately decided Duke was a better fit."
She made visits to both coasts. Between her sophomore and junior year, Scarbrough and her dad went to California where she looked at Stanford and UC Berkeley. This summer, she and her mom did a long northern drive. Scarbrough went to Vanderbilt and Princeton, among a slew of other schools.
"I was kind of exploring options, but Duke had been my No. 1 choice since probably sophomore year," she said.
It wasn't really until then that Scarbrough realized such a prestigious university was an option.
"I made good grades in middle school and I was willing to push myself to take the maximum amount of AP classes I could take," she said. "But I had no idea how I was going to do in high school."
Pretty well, it turns out. In addition to a full load of six AP classes as a senior, Scarbrough has been involved in a lot of the extracurriculars that colleges love to see from applicants. She's been in Beta Club for four years, French Club and National Honors Society, which includes a lot of community service projects.
One of the things Scarbrough liked so much about Duke was its athletic program -- even though she won't be playing. The complete college experience was a big part of what appealed to her. She can camp out in K-ville for tickets to the basketball games or go see one of the best lacrosse teams in the nation.
"I visited it first and then everything else was kind of compared to Duke," Scarbrough said. "I have family in North Carolina and it's the best school in the South, so it's closer to home. It's got that great sports program, which is something I've been doing my whole life. It's what I wanted in a college, because it's something you don't see in a lot of the top 10 schools."
After her decision was made, even with a heavy course load, Scarbrough didn't stop playing for the Bulldogs.
"One of the things I admire the most is she's been playing for her whole life -- her parents have paid countless dollars for this -- and she's not going to school to play soccer, but she still wants to do it," head coach Erik Crawford said. "This is a burden on her, I know. Because she's taking six AP classes.
"The workload she has is tremendous. And she comes out here and practices two hours a day every day. Then on game days, it's six hours or so with the bus ride and everything."
Scarbrough wasn't ready to give up the sport she'd been playing since she was 5.
"I tried a bunch of different sports," she said. "I tried tennis for a while, but I was really bad, so I quit. I did ballet and tap dance for a while. And my older brother played soccer -- which is probably why I wanted to start playing."
Scarbrough, who plays club for the Atlanta Fire United, values the social and athletic outlet soccer provides.
"That's probably why I've stuck with it so long," she said. "I have a lot of friends on the team because I've been playing for so long. If I didn't play, I probably wouldn't see them."
But she did have to think about it this fall.
"When I first came to talk to her, she wasn't sure yet," Crawford said. "She hadn't decided what she wanted to do. She still was keeping her college plans in focus. I was proud of her, but I also wanted to make sure she was making the right decision for herself. I didn't want to force her to come out here, because I knew I needed her. I wanted her to make sure her life plans were still going to be the same whether she played soccer or not.
"For her to put in all the time and effort, because she loves the sport and because she loves all these girls, means a lot."
This is the first year Scarbrough, a center back, has started for the Bulldogs. She has played all four years, but spent her sophomore season recovering from an injury.
"We lost an all-county player last year and I needed somebody who was, well, smart," Crawford said. "Somebody who understood the game, read the game and would make decisions based on using their brain instead of trying to react to something.
"She's smarter than most of the people out there. She knows where to be. It's just a thinking person's sport. You have to know what you're doing and why you're doing it before it happens. That's why I gave her the opportunity at the beginning to prove to me she could step in."
Scarbrough and the rest of the team is ranked No. 7 in the state and gearing up for a playoff run.
"I don't really like to know (about rankings)," she said. "Then you just play the best your know how to play."
It's one of the few numbers Scarbrough doesn't pay attention to.