Hough's Nathaniel Goodwin has the ability to change a soccer game each time he's on the field.
Coach David Smith said the senior forward is a complete player, who excels because of his strength and pace on the field.
"I honestly think he's one of the fastest kids I've ever coached with the ball at his feet," said Smith.
After leading the Huskies to the state semifinals last year, Goodwin wants to finish his high school career on top. He's worked hard to make that happen.
"I really want it this year," said Goodwin. "As a team, we have a good chance to make it big."
Goodwin went under the radar his two first years of high school, playing at Lake Norman Charter during the 1A program's infancy.
After sitting out his sophomore season recovering from an injury, Goodwin enrolled at Hough last year feeling like he had a lot to prove.
There weren't many expectations for Goodwin or the first-year team. But the forward quickly stood out for the Huskies, finishing his junior year with 11 goals and 13 assists, earning his team's most-valuable player award and being named all-conference and all-region.
Goodwin had three goals and three assists in the Huskies' four playoff victories before they were eliminated in a 4-0 loss to Myers Park.
Coming into this year with high expectations, Goodwin and the Huskies haven't disappointed.
The forward led his Huskies with 23 goals while assisting his teammates for 14 more to lead Hough, ranked No. 1 in the Observer's Sweet 16 and No. 2 in the state's 4A class, to a 19-1-2 record (13-0-1 in I-Meck play) and a conference championship.
"He puts so much pressure on the defense that they have to account for him and that opens up things for everybody else," said Smith.
Goodwin's teammates have capitalized playing off of him, which has showed on their offensive pace. The Huskies scored 87 goals in the regular season.
Goodwin is quick to thank his teammates for his success. A big boost for Goodwin and the Huskies was the arrival of freshman forward Tanner Roberts, who was second in scoring on the team with 17 goals.
Goodwin said he and Roberts have similar aggressive styles, pressuring defenses and taking every chance they're given to shoot the ball, and have developed good chemistry.
"It's like he reads my mind sometimes," said Goodwin.
Senior Santiago Patino along with junior Cheyn Roux are a good complement in the midfield, while senior center back Mace Timberlake has done well defensively to help goalkeeper Jaron Bradley, a senior transfer from North Meck, keep opponents to 28 goals this year.
Smith said his team is clicking heading into the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs, which begin today when Hough hosts Ardrey Kell.
"I like the energy we have and the togetherness that we're showing," said Smith.
He explained the main concern is to get everybody healthy, including Goodwin, who sprained his left ankle and missed some action the last few weeks. With a week of rest, he hopes his team will be at 100 percent to make a run at a state title.
Hough struggled last year to win games when the 5-foot-11, 160-pound forward was out late in the regular season with a groin injury. Playing without their star forward this season, the Huskies haven't dropped a beat.
"That's been the signature of this team," said Smith. "When one kid goes down another one steps up."
That has allowed the coach to become comfortable going five or even six deep in his bench.
"Everybody has stepped up," said Goodwin. "That just makes us better in playoffs."
The 17-year-old hopes with the experience his team has from last year's deep run, they'll again be able to make a deep run and contend for a state title.
"Teams are not going to treat us as lightly as they did last year," said Goodwin. "We have the target on our backs this year, but we're ready to accept the challenge."