Brian Avila got his start as a youngster in Mexico and has evolved into a first-team all-conference player thrice over for South. He has five goals and five assists in only four games. - Jim Craven

Panther Playmaker

Few places are as comfortable for Brian Avila as when he's on the pitch.

The South Medford High senior began playing soccer when he was 8 and was a standout in Mexico by the age of 12 as a member of a youth team that was affiliated with the local professional club.

The training he was privy to at such a young age has certainly paid off and has Avila entering his senior season in the Southwest Conference as one of the league's most dynamic players.

"He's just head-and-shoulders above the rest," says South coach Dave Kaufman. "He's just very comfortable with the ball, and that's something you don't see a lot, especially at the high school age. He's cool under pressure and wants the pressure on him."

A starter since he stepped on the South Medford campus after moving to town for his freshman year, Avila has been recognized each season by the coaches in the SWC. He was an honorable mention all-league pick that first year and a first-teamer the ensuing seasons.

Avila leads the Panthers (3-1) with five goals and five assists and is a prime reason South Medford has tallied 17 goals in only four games entering Saturday's SWC opener at North Medford (3-1). Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at Hoffbuhr Field.

"The thing I most enjoy is how well my teammates and I have done," says Avila, 17. "Every game we're always pushing up and trying to win all the games. We're always doing our best."

Fellow seniors Kory Kellum and Blain Rennels each have tallied three goals in support of Avila, who is just as happy helping others find the net as he is scoring goals.

"Soccer is not about one person, it's about 11 players," he says. "I enjoy getting everyone involved. We're all needed for something, not just one person."

As the most experienced player on the Panther roster, Avila is granted a little more freedom than the typical midfielder. Kaufman's system allows for some of that, and Avila takes full advantage by pushing forward whenever possible.

"I kinda appreciate that," says the 5-foot-6 standout. "On the field, he just puts me kinda everywhere."

"He's savvy enough and we give him a lot of freedom to go wherever he feels he's the most dangerous," adds Kaufman. "Very rarely does he stay centralized. That can give teams some trouble because he's not a forward, and he tends to go wherever he feels he needs to go to get the ball."

Even when you know what's coming, Avila seems to find a way to make an impact.

"You can't just sacrifice your players and think that you're going to be able to shut him down," says Kaufman. "He'll cause problems one way or another. He just finds a way."

Part of that is simply because of Avila's comfort in any situation.

"It's just natural, I guess," the senior says of his soccer prowess. "I just like to play it and it's just really interesting to me. It's a sport when you don't know if you can do well. You have a 50-50 chance every time."

More often than not, Avila is the one coming out ahead.

"He is a danger, there's no doubt," says Kaufman, who has also coached Avila on the Southern Oregon Fuego summer team. "He's very deceptive. He has some great pace and is as fast with the ball as he is without it. That in itself causes major problems. He's also very knowledgeable with what to do with the ball and at the right moment."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail

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