Nilton Perez didn’t know what high school soccer back in America would hold for him after a layoff. He’d played as a freshman for Southern Nash but jumped at an opportunity to play with the Guatemalan U17 team.
When he returned to the country, he had no idea what the season to be would hold at Smithfield-Selma High School.
“The first few games I was just learning to play with the people around me,” Perez said. “But it came very naturally, we all knew each other from playing around the area. My teammates all helped me out, made sure I fit in really well very quickly.”
The standout forward scored 32 goals and assisted on 21 others, sparking the Spartans into contention for the Two Rivers 3A Conference championship and was named Mr. Soccer by the Johnston United Soccer Association for the 2015-16 season. He is also a member of the JUSA All-County squad, which is picked by JUSA officials and area media representatives.
“He’s a leader on and off the field and really listens to what his teammates have to say,” said SSS coach Austin Coates, “during practice and especially during matches.”
Perez was known for his flair and ability to score from anywhere on the field, twice putting home goals from near midfield in key spots for the Spartans.
With a love of the game inherited from his dad, Angel Manzanares, Perez is looking forward to the next chapter in the beautiful game. A chapter that will come about nine months from now, thanks to a knee injury suffered during a pick up game.
He underwent reconstructive surgery this past week and there’s an open invitation waiting if he wants to return to Guatemala and play and the dream of a college stint in the game (which would come with the benefit of a small scholarship from JUSA as part of the Mr. Soccer award) is still very much alive.
“I will always carry that passion from the game and I get such great support from my dad and my mom (Margaret Perez) that I’m driven to always get to that next level,” Perez said. “Who knows what the future holds.”
The 2015-16 All-County Prep Boys Soccer Team
Juan Alvarado, Clayton: Juan led the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference in goals and points and helped the Comets win the JUSA Cup title. He was named offensive MVP of the event after scoring five goals in three matches, including the game-winner against South Johnston in the JUSA semifinals and the golden goal in the JUSA Cup final.
“A very humble, reserved and quiet player who just does whatever I asked him to do to help this team succeed,” said Clayton coach John Asmussen. “He exemplifies class in every sense of the word.”
Nilton Perez, Smithfield-Selma: Mr. Soccer selection was the leading goal scorer in the Two Rivers 3A Conference with 32 and added 21 assists as well and an all-conference and all-region selection.
Pedro Segundo, Corinth Holders: Pedro led the Pirates with 24 goals and 58 points, which also led the Two Rivers 3A Conference. He was named to 3A all-state team as well.
“He’s arguably the best player on our team and in a lot of games he was the best player on the field,” said Corinth Holders coach Brent Walston. “He possesses tremendous shot-taking ability and is very adept taking people on.”
Ian Walston, North Johnston: Ian was an all-state selection and the top goal-scorer in the 2A ranks in the state of North Carolina with 42 goals. Added 32 assists as the Panthers rolled up a school record 21 wins.
He set a Panther record for goals in a game (6) and assists for a season, while tying the school record for most assists in a game (4).
Derek Kaple, Corinth Holders: Derek had a baker’s dozen of goals and 14 assists for the Pirates this season and earned all-state and all-region honors.
“He was our engine in the midfield,” said Pirates coach Brent Walston.
Lawson Lamm, Cleveland: Lawson was named the Two Rivers 3A Conference offensive player of the year with 16 goals and 20 assists. He was an all-region selection as well for the Rams, who won the league title and went 18-3-1 overall.
Josue Perez, Cleveland: There was no player in the area that scored more timely and important goals for their team than Josue did this season for the Rams. He posted game-winning goals on back-to-back nights against Corinth Holders and Smithfield-Selma to help Cleveland wrap up the Two Rivers 3A Conference title.
He was an all-region selection with 19 goals and seven assists.
Brandon Sainz, Clayton: Brandon was “the engine that made our team go,” according to Clayton coach John Asmussen. Was stellar at center back for the Comets in big match wins against Garner, Corinth Holders, Knightdale and Northern Durham.
His scoring numbers (nine goals, 12 assists) aren’t super outstanding, but he was the one player who made the Comet offense click all season in a conference title-winning effort. The GNRC recognized that, naming him its Offensive Player of the Year.
Tyler Jackson, North Johnston: Tyler was an Eastern Plains 2A All-Conference and all-region selection helping the Panthers to win 21 matches. He was an offensive force as well with 21 goals (including four game-winners) and eight assists.
Seth Kimble, Clayton: Seth was one of the top defenders in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference and an all-conference selection. He added three goals and five assists on offense.
“Our team really got into a groove in the defensive third once our backline came together and Sean was the glue that kept it all together,” Asmussen said. “He was very strong in the air and a great physical presence.”
Alan Landeros, Corinth Holders: Alan was the Two Rivers 3A Conference defensive player of the year and added four assists and a goal offensively.
Coach Walston called him the team’s most valuable and consistent player during the season.
Ben Meshaw, West Johnston: Ben was named the GNRC defensive player of the year, despite West’s 7-7 mark in conference play. With soccer defensive stats tough to come up with, here’s a score comparison of note. The Wildcats lost to Garner 9-1 in their first meeting and Meshaw out of action. In the second meeting with Garner with Meshaw anchoring the defense, the Trojans managed just a 2-1 victory.
“Ben is nearly unbeatable, period,” said West coach Luke Waddell. “He may be the most daring player I have sever seen at the high school level. He simply does not lose 50/50s and wins every challenge in the air.”
Ethan Fellows, Cleveland: Ethan anchored the Rams’ run to the Two Rivers 3A Conference title, allowing only eight goals on the season. Finished with 11 shutouts on the season and was an all-region selection.
J.T. Palazzolo, Clayton: J.T. back-stopped the Comets to the JUSA Cup title and the GNRC championship, earning defensive MVP honors in the JUSA Cup.
“Without him, there is no way we win the JUSA Cup,” said Clayton coach John Asmussen.
Daniel Alioto (Clayton), Tanner Costine (Cleveland), Fernando Ferreya (Princeton), Yovani Herrera (South Johnston), Garrett Lee (Cleveland), Ricardo Padilla-Sanchez (North Johnston), Dillon Parker (Corinth Holders), Oliver Pastrana (South Johnston), Austin Stephens (West Johnston).