The legend of Franklin Academy soccer’s 50-goal man was already established before Nick Hughes led the Patriots to the state title.
But he’s still adding a little magic.
For his 50th act, the 6-foot-4 senior tossed in some sleight of foot in a 2-1 win Saturday against James Kenan in the fourth round. His 51st goal, on Tuesday in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A East final, advanced the top-seeded Patriots (21-1-2) to Saturday’s state championship win against two-time defending state champion Wallace-Rose Hill.
“Nick. Nick. Nick,” Franklin goalie Ben Voorhis said of Hughes’ magic act. “He can put the ball in from anywhere on the field. He never ceases to amaze me every single game.”
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On Hughes’ milestone 50th goal, he was battling for control while driving in line with the goal post to his left. Momentum carried him slightly past the post as he fired his shot. The ball somehow slid around the James Kenan goalie, taking a turn inward and rolling across the line into the far side of the goal.
The senior midfielder could have kept the trick to himself – as do magicians.
Turns out, he’s too honest.
“I tried to hit it back to the middle to Branden Motto,” Hughes said, “but the ball hit (the goalie’s) leg and went in. It was lucky, but I’ll take a lucky goal any time.”
Franklin Academy fans are used to such spectacular play, but Hughes left James Kenan coach Mitchell Quinn unable to finish his sentence while he described Hughes’ rare combination of height and advanced skills for high school soccer.
“He’s got skills,” Quinn said. “That tall and that kind of skill...”
Hughes’ nimble footwork and size have been enough to attract recruiting interest from East Carolina, Western Carolina and UNC Wilmington, among others. And considering Hughes stands a head and shoulders above other high school players, Franklin coach John Crosland said Hughes sets his game apart from others by not relying on physical advantages.
“He has touch on the ball and a commitment to attack the ball and not the player,” Crosland said. “A lot of guys try to use their bodies and throw it around. He could do that with his size, but he has a willingness to attack the ball. That says a lot. He’s a smart, tactical player.”
Hughes may already have the skills to play at the next level, but college soccer lost its appeal to him the summer before his junior year at Franklin, so Saturday may mark the end of his soccer career. The Patriots will take on Community School of Davidson at 5 p.m. at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Field.
Hughes, who has a 4.1 GPA, said he suffered a torn quadriceps muscle in his right leg at a summer camp for college prospects.
The experience left him disillusioned by the response of college coaches.
A team of camp all-stars were later selected, and Hughes said no one followed up with him on his health.
“It seems like they’re only interested in you (and) what you can do for them if you’re playing soccer,” he said. “They’re only interested in how much work you’ll put in for playing soccer.”
Crosland understands Hughes’ academic goals and isn’t surprised Hughes may pass on college soccer.
“I tell him whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability,” he said. “That’s how we train on our field. We have academic results and I feel it translates to the field. If he wants to play at the next level, he has the talent. But that’s his decision. It’s not for everyone, but Nick is a smart enough kid that if he wants to play at the next level, he will.”