Three GMC Prep boys soccer players got to step on the field last weekend for some real competition for the first time in more than three months.
Rising seniors Jack Harris, Colin McCabe and Ethan Tolentino joined their coach Bobby Jaworski and top players from around the state and country in participating in the first-ever Southeast All-American Soccer Showcase held in Atlanta. Athletes were divided up into four teams for three days of practice and playing the sport that has been missing from their lives since mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down high school soccer seasons. They lined up against one another to show their skills to college coaches attending the inaugural event.
The three local standouts were nominated by Coach Jaworski months ago and eventually selected to compete. The pandemic put the showcase in question for a while, but founder Tyler Pineda, also the girls soccer coach for Chestatee High School, made the call late last month to carry the weekend on as planned. Some measures were taken such as having hand sanitizing stations and players were encouraged to wear masks while off the field. Come Saturday though, parents and other family members were allowed to attend and give the day’s games a touch of normalcy many have longed for for months.
GMC Prep’s four representatives — the three players and one coach — were split up amongst the four teams making for some interesting head-to-head matchups. As part of Team Stars Jaworski coached against his own midfielder in McCabe who played on Team Stripes.
“It was pretty cool getting to watch him play,” said Jaworski. “You’re conflicted because you want to cheer him on but you also want your guys to get the ball from him. He made some pretty hard tackles and played really efficiently.”
McCabe’s Team Stripes got the best of Team Stars 3-1 in their contest.
For the players, it was their first on-the-field competition since their 2020 school seasons were canceled. The Bulldogs, the defending GHSA Class A-Public state champs, were on a roll at 9-0 and were poised to repeat before the season ended unexpectedly.
“I missed it so much,” Tolentino said. “Being off the pitch for three months then getting back on it again felt great. The ball comes to your feet and you just play your game. It was really an eye-opener getting to play against some of the best talent in the southeast. I got to learn a lot of new things and also make new friends.”
Not only were Tolentino and Harris placed on different teams (Team East and Team West, respectively), but they were lined up directly opposite one another as left wing and right back at the start of their teams’ matchup.
“I specifically remember walking over to the left side of the field and facing him,” said Tolentino. “A smile went across my face because I never thought I would be playing against my teammate.”
“I enjoyed it,” added Harris on lining up against his classmate. “I’m not going to say that I was scared or anything, but it was fun. I had a really good time.”
Harris and Team West got the last laugh via a 6-1 victory out on the pitch, one in which both local players got a great deal of playing time.
“I met a lot of guys who are going to play college soccer and I think being around them really helped me improve,” said Harris. “The coaches also helped a lot. I learned so much this past weekend about the game. We really jelled as a team in those three days. We found a way to build chemistry quickly, and I think that’s ultimately what helped us win.”
All three GMC Prep players said it would not take long for them to positively respond if they were presented with an invite to return to the Southeast All-American Showcase next year. They are all trying to increase their exposure to college programs in order to land an offer to play at the next level.
“I would definitely come back,” said McCabe. “I think it will end up being the biggest showcase for colleges to go to.”
Some of the inaugural event’s luster was lost due to ongoing recruiting restrictions. The NCAA has lengthened the “dead period” for Division I and II schools through the pandemic, but many smaller colleges were represented this year.
The players weren’t the only ones who enjoyed returning to the competition field.
“It was definitely an opportunity to learn,” Jaworski said. “It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in coaching. I’d put the  championship game at 1a and this at 1b.”
Jaworski said that in talking with event organizers there are plans for the showcase to return next year and two years from now with games between players from America and Europe lined up.