Prep Soccer: Garus emerges as star for East

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 13, 2009

By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY ó Like the Autobahn in his homeland, East Rowan soccer forward Jan Garus is built for speed and has few limits.
The 16-year old German’s name is pronounced “Yon Garroose,” and his coach is sure he’s broken the school record for goals in a season.
After East defensive stalwart Andrew May scored while subbing at forward in a recent blowout, May rushed to the sideline chattering about his first goal of the season that wasn’t a PK.
“Andrew, that’s great,” Garus countered. “I have 26.”
Garus is catching on to the give-and-take trash talk that takes place between teammates on American sports teams. The exchange student misses his girlfriend and family, but he’s enjoying his time at East Rowan and has lifted the fortunes of a team that is 7-8. Garus notched his 27th goal in a 3-1 loss to Carson on Monday.
“We were 2-16-2 last year,” May said. “We’d be better than 2-16 this year without him, but with Jan we’ve had a chance to compete against teams that beat up on us bad in the past. He’s made a difference. We’re not where we are without him.”
Garus is the best prospect of coach John McNeil’s career, but McNeil just caught a break when a kid living near the city of Bonn filled out the required forms to experience life in the U.S. for one semester.
Garus, who’s enrolled in courses a typical junior would take at East, will return to Germany in January still facing 21/2 years of high school.
“The high school system in Germany is much different,” Garus said.
So is the age for drinking beer ó it’s 16 there. So is the sports pecking order.
“When I did my profile for the exchange program, I said soccer was my biggest hobby,” Garus said. “It’s the biggest sport in Germany, like football is here. In Germany, I am more of an average player.”
Last June, McNeil was informed East was getting an exchange student who was interested in soccer and would stay with Mark and Sheila Hall. McNeil didn’t turn cartwheels. That meant paperwork. Might be a hassle.
McNeil didn’t lay eyes on Garus until August. When he appeared, the Mustangs already had worked out a few weeks, and the Rowan County Tournament was around the corner.
“First day, I thought he looked good, but you never know about one day,” McNeil said.
The players figured it out. In an early one-on-one drill, Garus ripped a shot past Reid Lippard’s ear.
“This guy’s good, Coach,” Lippard informed McNeil.
After Garus’ first two practices, Jeffrey Pangnavong asked, “Can we start him in the tournament?”
McNeil wasn’t starting Garus ó not right off.
“Not when guys had been practicing weeks and he’d been here two days, and Jan understood that,” McNeil said. “But our first game against North Rowan a guy gets hurt. I turned to Jan and said, ‘OK, show us what you can do.’ Six minutes later, he scores his first goal. He’s an athlete. He’s quick. He can control the ball. He’s played from a young age.”
Garus, who was 6 when he started in the sport, hasn’t looked back even though teams figured out what he could do and adjusted. They know who he is now. Word is out about the “German boy” as Garus refers to himself.
The second time around in the NPC, Garus has been double-teamed or triple-teamed. Still, he has 10 assists to go with all the goals.
“If there are two on me, a teammate is open,” he said.
Garus gives credit to his fellow Mustangs and understands individual success is most gratifying when it makes teammates better.
“He’s fit in and has been accepted by the team,” McNeil said. “He hangs out with them, goes to the beach with them. He’s a good guy. It’s helped that he’s a good guy who can really play.”
A highlight for East was a 2-2 tie with Salisbury. Garus got both East goals.
“That game sticks out in my mind because Salisbury’s defense doesn’t get run by often, and Jan ran by them twice,” McNeil said.
“Jan scored late in that game when we were behind 2-1 for the tie. Lippard comes off the field and yells, ‘I will never say anything bad about Germany again!’ “