By JOEL COLEMAN
Alvaro Pichardo has been playing organized soccer since his preteen days. Garrett Batson boasts just three years of experience.
Wednesday at Starkville High School, those differences didn't matter as both Pichardo and Batson announced they will each continue to play soccer at the next level.
Pichardo signed on to play for the University of Mobile (Ala.) while Batson inked to join the Itawamba Community College program.
"I'm excited for both of them," said SHS head soccer coach Brian Bennett. "With Garrett, I think ICC is getting a very good soccer player. He's quite a steal for them. Alvaro, there was no doubt this could happen with him. He's always aimed high. I'm sure he's not finished aiming high either."
Both Pichardo and Batson proved to be key components of the Yellowjackets' success during the 2010-11 soccer campaign as they helped lead SHS all the way to the second round of the Class 6A playoffs before wrapping up the season with a 16-2-1 overall record.
Throughout the year, it was Pichardo who shined as the Jackets' premier scoring threat.
"Keep the other team from scoring and we always knew we had a pretty good shot to get at least one out of Alvaro," said Bennett. "He's dangerous. You can have mediocre teams, but if they have one dangerous player, then they can be a dangerous team.
"I like scoring goals and Alvaro likes scoring goals so I like Alvaro."
Now, it will be Mobile who benefits from the goals of Pichardo.
Pichardo says he is ready to join what is widely considered one of the top soccer programs in the NAIA.
"I'm really excited to get my career started," said Pichardo. "It's a really good school and we're going to be challenging for a national championship in my first year."
Pichardo hopes to regularly contribute to the Rams' cause, just as he did for Bennett and the Jackets.
"I want to help the team," said Pichardo. "My goal is to start every game and not just be a guy who comes off the bench."
While Pichardo's talent led many to believe he'd have the chance to play soccer beyond high school, Batson says his current situation is a surprise altogether to him.
"I had no idea," said Batson. "It all just kind of hit me like a freight train. It just shocked me. I didn't think I was good enough to play at the next level.
"I really didn't pick up everything until this year. I just started playing in the tenth grade and this year, I started seeing the field a lot better and it all just kind of clicked."
Even with Batson's lack of experience, ICC head coach Mike Sullivan says he believes his newest signee has the tools to be a factor for the Indians.
"He's good in the air and his skills are good and he looks like a guy who gives 110 percent every time he's out there," said Sullivan. "Those are the kinds of guys I like getting. With his athleticism and what he puts into it out there on the field, I can see he's just going to get better and better."
Sullivan isn't the only one who thinks Batson will keep improving. Pichardo believes his friend and now-former teammate will continue his progression in Fulton.
"If (Batson) had played when he was little, he'd be signing with a (Division I) school," said Pichardo. "He's just a great player. I'm really glad he came out three years ago. It helped us a lot."
Conversely, Batson heaped praise upon Pichardo.
"Alvaro has a natural talent, but then again, he works hard," said Batson. "I go outside and I see him running on the track or juggling or passing with somebody. He's always on the soccer field or running somewhere, so I think he's definitely going to do great things."
Regardless of what Batson and Pichardo attain in the future, Wednesday proved there will be plenty of supporters rooting each of them on.
Teammates, school officials and parents all joined Batson and Pichardo on Wednesday to congratulate and celebrate with them both.
"This is all just really special," said Pichardo.