Playing soccer for Georgia Perimeter College was never on Juan Arbalaez’s to-do list.
As a senior at West Hall, Arbalaez got the attention of college coaches by scoring 22 goals, recording 22 assists and leading his team to the 2009 Class AAA state finals. Although Perimeter was one of those schools, Arbalaez wasn’t interested in playing at a junior college in Dunwoody.
Teams like Indiana, Illinois-Chicago and Rutgers all showed interest in Arbalaez, but as it turned out none of the aforementioned, nor Belmont-Abbey, offered a substantial scholarship.
"The one I was going to go to (Belmont-Abbey) backed down," Arbalaez said. "I went to Perimeter because they have a good program."
The Jaguars are certainly glad Arbalaez made that decision.
After earning the starting right-midfield position before the season started, the freshman scored eight goals in his first season, including one that sent his team to the semifinals of this year’s NJCAA national tournament.
With the score tied 1-1 and the game against Essex County College (N.J.) in double-overtime, Arbalaez received a long pass and maneuvered around Essex’s goalie to score the game-winning goal.
"I just kept working hard to get to the ball," Arbalaez said. "It was kind of a long pass and I just kept running. The keeper made a mistake and I took advantage of it."
The Jaguars would not have been in that position to win if Arbalaez hadn’t earlier forced his opponents to score on themselves by firing a shot that hit a defender’s foot and bounced over the goalie’s head to tie the game.
Perimeter lost to Tyler College (Texas) on penalty kicks in the championship game.
"I knew we’d have a good team because a lot of players on my club team play here," Arbalaez said.
Now that the grueling soccer season is complete, Arbalaez is glad to be home for the holidays, where he can relax and spend time with his family and a group of high school friends he hasn’t seen in a long time.
"Once I’m home I try and hang out with them," he said of his childhood friends and high school teammates Rudy Vazquez, Israel Del Toro and Alex Munoz. "It feels good to get home and be with my friends and take it back to the old days."
While the foursome may relive past successes on the soccer field, it appears that Arbalaez will have plenty of memories to share in the future.
After just one year of playing junior-college soccer, six schools have shown interest in getting Arbalaez to come to their programs.
Atop that list is the University of North Carolina, and although playing for the Tarheels would be the ultimate gift, Arbalaez said he already got his Christmas present this year: a game-winning goal in the national tournament and a runner-up finish in the nation.
"What more could I ask for?" he asked.