Lake Norman & Mooresville

Growing up around the game pays off for freshman

Tanner Roberts may only be 14 years old, but the Hough freshman forward is playing well beyond his years.

Roberts had 12 goals and five assists in his first 10 games for the Huskies.

"I knew I had to step my game up, being a freshman on the varsity," he said. "But I never expected to have this much success this fast. But I am not satisfied; my goal is to keep scoring, keep playing hard and keep playing well."

While Roberts was surprised by his success, others had bigger expectations because of his soccer pedigree. Roberts is the son of North Mecklenburg and former UNC Charlotte girls' soccer coach Neil Roberts and the younger brother of former Hopewell standout Tyler Roberts.

The younger Roberts also grew up with elite soccer coaches on the club teams he played for and is now on the under-16 North Meck Soccer Academy team.

That soccer-rich environment drove Roberts to be the player he is today.

"I grew up always around the game - at my dad's practices or games or my brother's games - always playing and kicking the ball around, usually with the older guys," said Roberts. "That definitely made me a better player."

Roberts wasted no time getting started for Hough (9-1-1 as of Sept. 21), as he recorded hat tricks, scoring three goals in a game, in two of his first five games.

Roberts had no trouble blending in with All-I-Meck senior forward Nathaniel Goodwin, who's started the year with a team-best 13 goals and seven assists.

The "dynamic duo," as they have been tabbed by teammates, is already becoming one of the top offensive combinations in the area, according to Hough coach David Smith.

"From day one in practice, you could tell Tanner was for real," he said. "He's a very mature player for his age. He understands the game, and he understands how to play off other great players like Goodwin. He has blended right into this team."

Goodwin and Roberts also have a friendly competition to see who can score the most goals and assists. The competition motivates both players to maximize their effort and talents.

"Nathaniel and I are always joking about who can score the most goals," said Roberts. "But really I've learned a lot from Nathaniel, Santi (Patino) and the older guys on this team. We all push each other to be at our best."

Roberts' game is not limited to scoring goals, as Smith said he is just as quick to make the hustle plays and do the "dirty work." In a recent 4-1 win against Hopewell, Smith said, Roberts sprinted down field after a Hough corner kick to make a defensive stop for his team.

"Playing defense all the way down field is definitely not in his job description," said Smith. "But that is the type of player he is. He will do anything it takes to win."

Winning is exactly what the Hough team wants to keep doing, as the Huskies look to get back deep into the playoffs after reaching the 4A state semifinals in their first year as a program.

That all begins with the opportunity to win their first I-Meck title.

They face stiff competition from Lake Norman, who the Huskies will play Sept. 28 in Mooresville.

Roberts and his teammates will need to be at their best in the biggest games.

"It's exciting to think we are already in the mix for a conference championship," said Smith.

"The boys are definitely hungry that we can compete for a title. We know if we can compete in our league, then we can compete with anyone."