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ALL-AREA BOYS' SOCCER: Pridgen embraces opponents' frustration

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Faith Christian's Jacob Pridgen is the 2016 Telegram All-Area Player of the Year.

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By Ethan Joyce
Sports Writer

Friday, December 23, 2016

Jacob Pridgen tricks people. 

Off the pitch, he’s a modest and quieter presence at Faith Christian School. But when he gets inside the lines and works his way to the front of his side’s penalty box, he puts on his mask as the Patriots’ defensive pest.

Pridgen, the 2016 Telegram All-Area Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year, has baited potential scorers into 416 offsides calls during his three years in the starting lineup. It has resulted in many raised flags from the linesmen and many free Faith Christian possessions. He knows he is getting his job done when opponents’ tempers come out.

“They will be yelling at the ref, looking at them giving them bad signs, throwing their hands up,” Pridgen chuckled. “They know they are way offsides, but they just don’t think they are.

“We can get some people pretty mad though. Just get them offsides every time, and they will get so frustrated.”

Part of it comes from Faith Christian’s formation. The Patriots run a set that features a sweeper (Pridgen), who serves as the last man in front of the goalkeeper. But according to his coach, Tyler Hendricks, it is his instinct that makes him a force. 

“It is something we have worked on the last five years: the offsides trap,” Hendricks said. “It has gotten to the point where I don’t even have to say anything.

“If Jacob moves up, they move up. They are a unit. If he moves back, they move back.”

Pridgen started his freshman year as a forward. At the beginning of his career, that’s where he wanted to be. During his sophomore year, he was shifted to the back. He never played in the offensive side of the formation again. 

Hendricks remembers how Pridgen’s speed indicated he could handle the position.

“You’ve got to be completely in shape because you’re running from one side of the field to the other,” Hendricks said. “If that ball gets by that line of three in front of you, you’re the next one.

“So he can end up being on one side of the field, and they cross it and he’s got to get all the way over there.”

What Hendricks didn’t expect was Pridgen’s ability to angle off people. Because he can sometimes end up in awkward spots and needs to recover, Pridgen has to read the dribbler’s line and try to cut him off. Hendricks has seen Pridgen go to take off, get tangled up with someone and fall, only to get up and catch the guy anyway. It creates a troubling combination of a player who can pace with you or force you offsides. That can leave strikers feeling helpless. 

While his goal-scoring chances diminished, Hendricks gave Pridgen the chance to take the ball up occasionally. And again, that is where his speed becomes a tough factor. Hendricks said opponents don’t expect a rush from the back of the formation, and it’s resulted in good chances for Pridgen.

“I wish I had two of him, where I could put one on offense and one on defense,” Hendricks said. “It would be a game changer.

“But allowing him in the offensive attack, he has pretty good possession where he places the ball. He can kick a long ball . . . and it would actually be to one of our players, and that is a big key in pushing our offense.”

Pridgen has garnered interest from the Division-II level, such as Mount Olive, Chowan and the University of South Carolina Aiken. He’s been invited to a camp at UNC Wilmington. The UNCW camp will be a tryout for Pridgen, and he’s hoping the school’s looking for a fleet-footed defender. At this point, he can’t imagine any other role.

“(When I switched) I realized how much I really liked it,” Pridgen said. “I’ve never regretted playing sweeper.”

ALL-AREA TEAM

Jacob Pridgen, Sr., Faith Christian: Pridgen made the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association all-state team, and he was the conference player of the year. He forced 122 offside calls this season.

Jose Luis Salgado, Sr., Southern Nash: Salgado scored 15 goals and had five assists for the Firebirds. 

Jonathan Stallings, Jr., Faith Christian: Stallings scored 12 goals and added 20 assists for the Patriots. 

Gary Clark, Sr., Faith Christian: Clark scored 15 goals and contributed 7 assists for the Faith Christian.

Justin Vazquez, Jr., Southern Nash: Vazquez scored 13 goals and threaded four assists for Southern Nash.

HONORABLE MENTION

Brandon Barnes, So., Northern Nash; Colby Carter, Jr., Nash Central; Eric Mendoza, Jr., Southern Nash; Demetrius Morton, Jr., Rocky Mount; Chandler Padgett, So., Nash Central; Landon Quigley, Sr., Rocky Mount; Cristian Salazar, Sr., Southern Nash; Langley Salter, Sr., Rocky Mount; Rolando Valladarez, Sr., Southern Nash; Erik Villanueva, Jr..


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