From the very beginning, East Lincoln soccer coach Jason Dragoon knew he had something special in Justin Williams.
Williams, a junior, burst onto the scene in 2009 as a forward, scoring 24 goals to help the Mustangs to an 18-7-1 mark and a share of their first Southern Piedmont Conference title.
"When Justin came here, he was very quiet but also very excited just to be a part of everything," said Dragoon, noting Williams earned all-conference and all-region honors as a freshman.
"We knew he was a great player right away, but I think he was a little worried about the older guys on the team. But he started playing well and figured out it was OK to be a good player as a freshman ... "
Williams says he couldn't have made the transition to high school without his teammates.
"I was definitely nervous," said Williams, whose team advanced to the third round of the 2A playoffs in 2009. "But my teammates helped me out a lot and made me feel like a big part of the team from Day 1, so I could just go out and play."
Williams quickly became a leader on the team as a sophomore, when he was moved back to his natural center back position with the Mustangs, who needed some help on defense because of injuries.
While Williams had excelled on offense, he was just as good, if not better, in the back line, helping his Mustangs to a 15-7-3 mark (7-1-2 in SPC) and another trip to the third round of the playoffs. In the process, he earned all-conference, all region and all-state honors.
"Switching positions wasn't really that tough because we already had a good defense," said Williams. "I really want to do whatever the team needs me to do to win."
Williams also contributed to the offense in his sophomore campaign, going forward when the opportunities presented themselves and scoring 13 goals. Dragoon moves the versatile Williams around as he is needed.
"Justin can play anywhere on the field," said Dragoon. "He was great for our offense as a scorer and finisher his freshman year, but he is one of the best defenders in the western part of North Carolina, whether you're talking about 4A, 3A, 2A or 1A soccer."
Williams showed his talent when he played in the N.C. State Games on the gold-medal winning West boys' team last summer.
East Lincoln teammate Breck Collins, also a standout, played on the West team.
Williams also starred on his under-17 FC Carolina Alliance club team, where he plays center back.
Williams is just starting to get interest from college soccer coaches.
"This is the beginning of a huge year for Justin in both high school and club soccer, as far as college recruiting goes," said Dragoon.
This season, Williams, 16, has been just as good in the back line, as East Lincoln overcame a brutal nonconference schedule that included state powers Charlotte Catholic, Hough, Hickory and Marvin Ridge. That competition enabled the Mustangs (15-6-2, 10-1-1 going into their second-round playoff game, to win their first outright SPC title under Dragoon.
Williams has had a lot of help from center back David Keener and goalkeeper Andrew Campbell, both seniors, as well as center midfielder Rolando Miranda and Darin Salter, who lead the attack.
Even though East Lincoln has 13 seniors on its roster, Williams has still emerged as a leader.
"I definitely like to talk and communicate where my teammates need to be or whatever I can do to help them," said Williams.
Williams' coach agrees.
"Justin is a natural leader," Dragoon said. "He does whatever is best for the team at all times. I think his teammates respect what he has done and what he has to say no matter how old he is."