It’s entirely possible Carson King will never play another competitive soccer match in his life. If that is the case, the 18-year-old Ponte Vedra High senior certainly went out on a high note.
The Record’s 2017 Boys Soccer Player of the Year was a captain and defensive anchor for a Sharks squad that surprised everyone, including itself, by making it to the Class 3A state semifinals.
“I would probably tell you, I’m not the most talented person out there, but I would like to believe I would outwork anyone,” said King, a left-side central defender who deputized at fullback. “For me, it’s very humbling for sure. I would never have thought that I would have won — not because I don’t believe I’m a solid player, but there are a lot of people out there. There is a lot of talent in Northeast Florida, it’s not like we don’t have any great teams.”
There are some exceptional teams in Northeast Florida, but none of that beat the Sharks are located in St. Johns County. Ponte Vedra was 2-0-1 against county opponents during a 15-5-3 season.
In those 23 matches, the Sharks conceded 26 goals; however, in the matches that mattered most —against district foes and in the playoffs— the Sharks stiffened, allowing 10 goals in 12 matches. King led a defense that maintained a 297-minute scoreless streak during the regional playoffs that catapulted the Sharks to a third state semifinal in school history.
“The thing about Carson and the captains is they had that playoff experience; even though we were so young we had players on the team that had playoff experience,” said Ponte Vedra coach Daniel Villarreal. “They knew what it was like to travel, to go on the road and to play in a hostile environment. That’s what Carson, and the seniors, that’s what they were able to do. They were able to share those experiences with those younger players.”
For most soccer teams, their strength is up the middle of the field, whether one is a central defender, central midfielder or center forward. This year’s Sharks bucked that trend as King had multiple partners in defense. Early in the season it was sophomore Michael Gambuzzo, then toward the midway point Chris Howard returned from football commitments. All-County forward Jack Bingemann even deputized in defense in a Jan. 11 contest against Fleming Island, only for Gambuzzo to return for the Sharks’ stretch run.
“It really comes down to communication. Everyone on my team would say I talk way more than I should,” King said chuckling. “They would tell you that I’m probably not the nicest person out there. Michael Gambuzzo probably wanted to kill me during the season. It made it a little bit difficult, but we all knew everyone was trying as (hard) as they could. It was different, but it didn’t make a huge difference.”
Though he was routinely the last line of defense, the senior did provide a unique addition offensively courtesy of throw-ins that were long enough and accurate enough to serve as another set piece. King’s only goal of the season came from one of his trademark throw-ins.
In a Feb. 1 regional quarterfinal match against Paxon, King flung the ball back into play. It took a bounce, the Eagles goalie got a fingertip on the ball, but not enough to keep it from bouncing into the back of the net. The touch from the Paxon goalkeeper meant King’s throw was live and his goal in the 15th minute was a legal.
Ponte Vedra would win the match 5-1, shut out Stanton as well as Fort Walton Beach and return to the state semifinals. A 2-1 loss to eventual state champion Daytona Beach Seabreeze meant Carson could not match the two state soccer championships his father, Scott, won at Tampa Leto in the mid-’80s, but the defeat remains the most fun he ever had on a soccer field.
“The atmosphere, since it was five minutes away from their school, the stands were completely packed,” King recalled of the Feb. 10 contest on the campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “The kids were so loud. I knew that any game could be my last game, so I was able to take it all in.”
The last two years have been a ride King will not forget. For years, he was primarily a left fullback. In 2016, after the high school season ended, King’s club coach at Jacksonville FC, Joey Barrett, was bluntly honest with him: He didn’t have the speed or the stamina to be a fullback, so he needed to play in central defense.
“I think it brought out a different side of me that I never knew I had as far as marking and stuff like that,” King said.
The club transition prepared him for a 2016-17 high school season that was more Murphy’s Law than the laws of the game. For the best explanation for how much King and the Sharks overcame this season, one may need to look at what transpired last season.
Ponte Vedra’s 2016 team became the fourth team in Florida history to finish unbeaten and untied. While eight starters graduated from that team, what no one envisioned were one of the three returnees would play only a handful of games, the Sharks’ most creative player would choose not to play soccer after the winter break and there would be multiple injuries to starters and key contributors.
“That’s the thing, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong,” King said. “Coming into the season, it was hard playing on a team like last year’s. Coming into this season it was very frustrating for people who played on last year’s team, like me, Jack (Bingemann) (and) Donovan (Crowley). After the first few games, we sat down with the coaches and said ‘We know it’s not going to be like last year. That’s why I think losing to Oakleaf, I, honestly, think was great for us. It took so much pressure off of keeping that winning streak alive.”
A 3-0 loss on Nov. 14 snapped a 28-match winning streak for the Sharks.
“It was a little different from last year, as a starting left defender and being a starting central defender,” Villarreal said. “We knew he had the ability to adapt. He has a great head on his shoulders, very mature and he was willing and able to do whatever he could do to help the team. Once we solidified him in the central defender role, he flourished.”
Brennan King said her younger brother is one of the most driven people she has ever met and a natural leader. King’s older sister noted how she, and his oldest sibling, Spencer, used to be tough on him when all of them were younger. Spencer and Brennan played soccer, so Carson, naturally, wanted to follow along.
“It was hard to watch him play his senior year because I’ve been to as many soccer games as I could, since he was 3,” Brennan King said. “It was really an emotional time for all of us.”
King said attending Carson’s soccer games was just as much a part of their relationship as the incident that led to Carson having black teeth, the youngest King sibling learning how to swim on the spot or the time in his life when he was a cookie salesman.
“He has always been a goal-setter,” Brennan said. “To us, we’re so proud of him for everything that he has achieved, but we’ve expected everything he has achieved because of these amazing goals he has set for himself.”
Statistics: one goal, one assist.
Accomplishments: Co-captain of Ponte Vedra team that advanced to Class 3A state semifinals, helped Ponte Vedra record seven shutouts in 2016-17 season, member of 2016 state championship team that finished 25-0-0, started 2016 state championship game against Immokalee.
Saturday: Girls Basketball: Kiya Turner, Nease
Sunday: Boys Basketball: J’Michael Plummer, Creekside
Monday: Girls Soccer: Sophia Thompson, Creekside
Today: Boys Soccer: Carson King
Wednesday: Girls Weightlifting
Previous Players of the Year
2016: Munir Adamo, Ponte Vedra
2015: Munir Adamo, Ponte Vedra
2014: Matt Volk, St. Joseph
2013: Kevin Shields, Ponte Vedra
2012: Will Jones, St. Joseph
2011: Kyle Federico, Ponte Vedra
2010: Fernando Duffoo, Nease
2009: A. Jay Nelson, Nease
2008: Filip Ivanov, Nease
2007: Ryan Corning, Nease
2006: Mack Hough, Menendez
2005: Josh Gilmore, Menendez
2004: Luke Sturgis, Menendez
2003: Brendan McCurdy, Nease
2002: Brandon Kaufman, Bartram Trail
2001: Derek Stephenson, Nease
The Record’s 2017 All-County Boys Soccer Team
Player of the Year: Carson King, Sr., defender, Ponte Vedra: The senior was a steadying presence for a Sharks team that did notlose to a St. Johns County opponent, finished 15-5-3 and advanced to the state semifinals for a second straight season.
Jack Bingemann, Sr., forward, Ponte Vedra: The two-time All-County selection scored 22 goals and added seven assists to help theSharks make a run to the state semifinals. He lined up as a forward, attacking midfielder and even central defender for the Sharks. Hewas a first-team All-County selection as a sophomore and second team honoree in 2016.
Zech DaPaah, Jr., forward, Bartram Trail: The Bears’ No. 9 had a knack for finding space and exploiting the teams that allowed it.He finished with 24 goals and seven assists to help Bartram Trail finish 13-6-2.
Ethan Dudley, Jr., midfielder, Bartram Trail: Led St. Johns County with 25 goals, despite splitting the first three weeks of theseason between the soccer and football teams. Like Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben, Dudley’s left foot was devastating, whether itwas shooting, taking a free kick or releasing a defense-splitting pass.
Estin Thiele, Jr., midfielder, Menendez: The Falcons’ creative cog in midfield scored 16 goals and assisted seven others with a uniquecombination of size, speed, vision and passing accuracy. How valuable was he to the Falcons? Menendez scored six goals in two District4-3A tournament games and Thiele recorded all of them. This is his third time on the All-County team. He was a second team selectionin 2015 and 2016.
Zane Bubb, Jr., midfielder, Creekside: If there were heat maps in high school soccer, Bubb’s would be off the charts. Creeksidealmost doubled its victories, finishing 11-5-2, and won its second playoff game in school history largely because Bubb was just ascomfortable making a tackle in his defensive third as he was harassing defenders in the attacking third.
Kenan Carames, Jr., midfielder, St. Joseph: Using his vision and timely runs into the penalty area, Carames scored 14 goals and fiveassists to lead the Flashes to a sixth straight district title. His goal in the second half of a Region 1-1A quarterfinal helped St. Josepheliminate Port St. Joe.
Billy McGlinn, Sr., defender, St. Joseph: Despite playing at fullback for portions of the season, he finished with five goals and sevenassists for a Flashes team that finished 16-3-1 on the season.
Michael Golan, Sr., defender, Creekside: For most of the season, Golan was a holding midfielder who played very deep. Hispositioning anchored a defense that shed its reputation for hemorrhaging goals.
Jack Dearie, Fr., defender, Nease: The Panthers conceded 28 times in 21 games and the central defender was a large reason whythe Panthers went on an nine-match unbeaten run late in the season.
Taylor Sweet, Sr., defender, Bartram Trail: The two-time second team selection makes his debut on the first team after playingalmost every minute of every match for a Bears squad that finished 13-6-1.
Alex Lorne, Sr., goalie, Creekside: The Elon signee posted nineshutouts, and helped the Knights make their first playoff appearance in four years. He was a second team All-County selection in 2015.
Jack Zaruba, St. Joseph
Jared Plotkin, Nease
Nick Binghi, Bartram Trail
Jon Brenninkmeyer, St. Joseph
Angelo Fernandez, Bartram Trail
Sebastian Cernatescu, Bartram Trail
Pavlo Palatsides, Nease
Derek Young, Menendez
Dylan Thibault, St. Joseph
Mateo Vinuales, St. Joseph
Pavan Ramachandria, Nease
Steven Sifontes, Ponte Vedra
Harrison DuParcq, Nease