Even before his freshman year at Johnson High, Fabian Abarca announced his arrival on the high school soccer scene.
The summer after his eighth-grade year, Abarca was playing with the Knights at summer 7-v-7 tournaments. In the first couple of games, he struggled against bigger players. Then, by the third game, Johnson coach Brian Shirley saw things click for Abarca, who scored a game-winning goal in one of those contests.
“From then on, you kind of knew he had that ‘it’ factor about him,” Shirley said.
That pure talent and drive has been on full display through two years with the Knights. Abarca tallied an area-high 31 goals and added 10 assists in 2014 to lead Johnson to its first state championship game appearance in program history. He has 57 goals in two seasons.
One of the most gratifying parts of the Knights’ historic run for the sophomore was helping his senior teammates play on such a big stage.
“They were dreaming of a state championship, at least going to a state championship, since they were freshmen,” Abarca said. “That was great to be able to help them out.”
For his efforts, Abarca is The Times’ Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
Abarca’s passion for soccer began from the time he could walk, with his father, Armando Abarca, always taking him to play.
Some of Abarca’s top performances of 2014 came in the postseason, including five goals in the first three playoff victories for the Knights and an assist on their lone goal in a 1-0 AAAA state semifinal win against Southeast Whitfield.
He scored two second-half goals in Johnson’s 3-0 victory against Marist in the first round, then added a goal in a 2-1 overtime second-round triumph versus Carrollton. Abarca had two goals in the first 10 minutes of the quarterfinals, providing enough offense for a 2-1 win against Cairo.
“He’s very crafty,” Shirley said. “He’s not the biggest guy out there, and he’s deceptively fast. You give him a half step, he’s going to take a shot. He’s never afraid to shoot. … Any time the ball is at his feet, it has a chance to go in the back of the net.”
The Knights’ forward, who stands just 5-foot-4 and weighs 140 pounds, said he uses the doubts of opponents to fuel his productivity.
“I just want to prove people wrong that I am going to make it,” Abarca said.
Shirley said Abarca’s success is the product of a deliberate process.
“He’s an exceptional talent, that’s for sure,” Shirley said. “He is no doubt one of the top strikers in the state. He has a very, very high work ethic. He’s a tireless worker. He’s very critical of himself. He always wants to do better.”
Shirley said Abarca didn’t panic when he’d follow up a flurry of high-scoring games with scoreless outings. Instead, he would push through and “go on another tear.”
It’s not often someone with Abarca’s goal total also has double-digit assists, but those numbers don’t surprise Shirley.
“He uses what the other team is giving him to open up something for somebody else and feed them the ball so they can put it in the net,” Shirley said.
With two high school seasons remaining, Abarca still has plenty of time to work toward his goal of playing college soccer.
He was a major reason Johnson finished 21-2 — setting a program record for victories — and made an appearance in the state finals against unbeaten defending champion Dalton, where the Knights fell 2-0. Being a part of history was meaningful for the sophomore.
“You leave behind something that everybody’s going to remember,” Abarca said.
It wasn’t the final result he and his Johnson teammates had hoped for against Dalton. Abarca remains confident, though, about the program’s potential to contend again even with the loss of 11 seniors.
“It was a great experience,” Abarca said. “I can’t wait to be back in a state championship game. We’re going to be more experienced.”