COVINGTON, Ga. — Nobody saw this coming — perhaps not even Tariq Davis himself.
On Tuesday night as the Newton Rams boys soccer team notched its second region win of the season against Shiloh in a game decided by penalty kicks, Davis booted three goals and etched his name into the Newton soccer lore by setting a new single season record for goals score — 26.
But if you were basing the senior striker’s record-shattering performance this season on projections from last year, you probably wouldn’t have seen it coming either.
“Last season I was a striker and only scored one goal all year,” Davis said.
The team’s 3-13 overall record sort of served as a reflection of Davis’ lack of production, too. But this year, the Rams jumped out of the gates hot, winning their first six games. And Davis was just as smokey, pushing in four goals in the season opener and serving notice both to himself and his team that this season wasn’t going to be anything like his junior year.
“From that moment on, things were different,” Davis said. “I knew there would be a lot of people depending on me, and I felt like I needed to prove to people that I could be that guy to score goals for the team.”
And he did so with regularity, including the three during Tuesday night’s Shiloh game which included to record breaker.
“When I found out, I was very excited, given that I have a record to my name now,” Davis said. “I was just happy, to be honest. When Coach (Marcus Taylor) told me, I just started thanking him.”
Davis realized that his sudden success and coming of age as a striker didn’t just happen in a vacuum. And it wasn’t all about him, either.
“I was thanking Coach because he taught me a lot of stuff this season,” he said. “He taught me some of my techniques I had to use to get myself into scoring positions. And this season as I started scoring a lot of goals, it made me a target for a lot of our teams we were facing.”
Davis said he grew accustomed to being double and triple-teamed and handled roughly by opposing defenders. But as far as he was concerned, it was a good problem for him to have.
“It made me feel like I’m a true player now,” he said. “And that even though that game against Shiloh was our last, and we aren’t going to the playoffs, I feel like people are expecting a lot more from me now. I think the sky’s the limit, and instead of this being my last game, I feel like I have a future in soccer.”
Davis said Taylor is working to get him to a Division II school or a JUCO that will help get him into a position to play collegiately. Admittedly, Davis gets a little overwhelmed when he sees how far he’s come from the first time he ever saw a soccer ball.
“I started playing when I was nine years old when I first moved here from Vidalia,” Davis said. “It was different because in Vidalia, they just played basketball and football. But we moved to Gwinnett County when I first came, and that’s when I started seeing people play soccer. It was something new to me, but I tried it and fell in love with the game from there.”
He’s become a student of the game, now. From picking apart the various teams, players and tendencies he faces on the high school level, to emulating his favorite player, Raheem Sterling of the Premier League’s Manchester City franchise.
“He’s my favorite player because I feel like he’s got the same kind of speed, ability and skill move that I strive to have,” he said. “It’s hard to keep him from scoring.”
It’s all breathed fresh life into his soccer career, even though he’s not entirely sure where it’s going to take him next. But when thing is for sure — there will never again be any hesitation or doubting his chances to be successful in the sport.
“I think two things really helped me this year,” he said. “It was my work ethic and the work load coach Taylor put on me, and my confidence. I really took no days off from last year to the offseason, and that helped. But it also helped for me to have confidence. Soccer is a sport that you have to play with confidence. So it’s just as much a mental thing too.
“I didn’t have that last year, but I do now.”