The Richmond Hill High School boys soccer team just won the 3-AAA region championship. The player who scored the most goals also happens to be a keeper that recorded two shutouts in the same month. The player’s name is Sam Vernon and he also happens to be the Bryan County March Athlete of the Month.
Vernon received his award during an award banquet at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s on April 6. Restaurant owners Doug and Georgia Goolsby also presented Vernon with an athletic achievement award as well as an Athlete of the Month T-shirt.
In the month of March, Vernon scored eight goals and four assists. When senior keeper and team captain Zach Alltop made an early season exit due to an injury, Vernon, already known as being strong in the field, made his debut as fill-in goalie. He quickly quieted the critics with two shut out performances.
"Sam is probably one of the most unique players you can find on the high school level," Coach Wade Wright said. "It’s very rare to find a player like Sam who excels on the field as well as in the goal position. Sam may be one of the best goal keepers in the state - he’s that good. But now he’s turned out to be of the best strikers in this area. We’re very blessed to have him."
Wright said he saw Vernon’s potential at an early age when he went to see him tend goal on the Club level while he was in the seventh grade. Wright said Vernon lived up to his potential by making an immediate impact last year when he joined the RHHS varsity team.
"We knew we had something special," Wright said. "This year he is just unstoppable. He’s leading the team in scoring, but he’s played just about every position on the field throughout the course of the season. When my assistant coaches and I need to plug a hole or fill a position, he’s one of the first guys we grab. A lot of our decisions are made around where we put Sam."Vernon said he has been playing soccer "since I was old enough to kick a ball. I started in the rec leagues when I was four. I have always played other sports too, but I dropped everything except soccer when I reached the sixth grade. It just comes more naturally to me and I made the decision to concentrate solely on soccer."
Coach Wright said Vernon is the jokester on the team but also an honor roll student and "a shining example of what the soccer program is striving to be. His brother Ethan is a product of four years, so he has had that mentorship to fall back on. Sam’s following right in Ethan’s footsteps and becoming a leader in this program."
"I’m really proud of my brother," his brother and RHHS team captain Ethan Vernon said. "We’ve been competitive each step of the way, but it’s a compliment to all my hard work back in the day in working with him to see him perform at the level he is now. He really deserves this award. I’m going to miss playing with him next year."
"I think because Sam was a keeper, he knows how to handle the keepers," his dad Neil said. "If you watch him play, he knows how to freeze the keeper and knows how far to push the ball to the keeper to make the him come out and then score around him."
Vernon said he’d like to play at the collegiate level and beyond. He hopes to eventually sign with a scholarship deal to play in the ACC conference, which is known for having prominent teams.
"Sam doesn’t know it, but we’ve just tapped the surface to how good Sam can be," Coach Wright said. "He’s just a sophomore too, so we’ve got him for two more years."
Honorable mentions: RHHS baseball’s Raul Rodriguez, RHHS soccer’s Kristin Oddi, BCHS baseball’s Kurt Shuman, BCHS tennis’s Garrett Tucker, RHHS tennis’s Michael Zhu, RHHS track’s Matt Gaddy, BCHS track’s Taylor Lucas, RHHS golf’s Tyler Steptoe and BCHS golf’s Julian Hines.
To see a photographic history of all the past Bryan County Athlete of the Month award winners, click here http://community.bryancountynews.net/gallery/detail/67/