Helgi Nati had one chance to make a splash for Myrtle Beach.
Consider the opportunity seized.
One season after Nati was a seldom-used reserve for a Seahawks team loaded on the front end, Nati did more than simply increase his playing time. The Toast of the Coast Boys Soccer Player of the Year scored 20 goals in 20 games and raked in a handful of postseason awards.
It was a far cry from the two-goal season the forward had as a junior.
“I wish I could say ‘yes,’ ” coach Jason Himelsbach said when asked if he projected Nati as the team’s top scorer in 2014. “I saw him being a very solid player for us. As a coach, even if you’ve done it a while, you do all the prep. You think you always know how things are going to turn out. There are surprises that have to play out. I think Helgi is a perfect example.”
Nati’s team lead in goals was accompanied by seven assists. It helped Myrtle Beach to a top-five state ranking for much of the year, a 19-4 overall record and an undefeated run through Region VII-AAA. The Seahawks advanced to the third round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
Given all that, Nati’s point production made him a shoo-in for several honors. He was named a first-team All-Region VII-AAA selection. Less than two weeks after that, he was announced as one of 18 players in Class AAA across South Carolina (and three locally) to the All-State team.
Basically, it was everything Nati’s previous season was not.
“Just sitting on the bench and being a reserve, it made me doubt myself a little,” he said. “When he put me out there, I knew I could be a good player for him.
“I got teased. People would ask ‘Oh, are you going to start this season?’ When I started scoring goals, it was gratification.”
Nati flirted briefly with the idea of pursuing college playing opportunities. In the end, his acceptance in the honors college at South Carolina won out. He plans to study International Business, drawing on the experience he gained as a member of Myrtle Beach’s DECA club, a marketing, management and entrepreneur organization. It was there he was honored for state and regional awards that rivaled some of his soccer exploits.
“I never considered myself a top-class athlete,” Nati said. “Wining these awards made me feel good about myself. I could excel in the athletic field and the academic field.”
He’ll walk away from the latter having accomplished what seemed implausible just a year ago.
“You get two, three, maybe four years from a kid,” Himmelsbach said. “Your goal is that, if they’re serious, they’re starting. In a perfect world, by the end of a senior year, every kid is a starter. But that doesn’t always happen.”
For Nati, it did.
And he made it count.
Contact IAN GUERIN at firstname.lastname@example.org.