New Hope High School senior Cai Earhart poses for a picture during a signing ceremony Friday to celebrate his decision to sign with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Cai’s grandfather, John Earhart; his father, Adam; and his mother, Priscilla; are sitting with him. New Hope High boys soccer coach Andrew Olsen is standing. His brothers, J.D. and Parker, also attended the signing. Photo by: Adam Minichino/Dispatch Staff
March 12, 2018 10:04:53 AM
Don't let Cai Earhart fool you.
At 5-foot-9, 150 pounds, the New Hope High School senior doesn't fall into the "imposing" category when it comes to identifying players who dominate on the soccer field.
But what a listing on a roster fails to tell you is the size of a player's heart and their will to control the action. Earhart's drive to be the best player on the field has pushed him to play bigger than his size and to realize his dream to play soccer in college.
Earhart finalized those plans Friday when he celebrated his decision to attend Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
New Hope High boys soccer coach Andrew Olsen played center back at East Mississippi C.C., so Olsen knows what a defender who leads the back line is supposed to say, how he should say it, and when he should say it. He said Earhart was one of the Trojans' loudest and most physical players.
"It is his heart," Olsen said. "When he steps on the field, he thinks he is the best player son the field, so when they come through it doesn't matter if the guy is 6-foot-3 or if he is 5-foot tall, nobody is going to push him off the ball."
Earhart said the recruiting process was "nerve-wracking" after not attracting a lot of
interest. He said he traveled last Sunday to Biloxi to look around the area. He said he went to Perkinston on Monday to tour the campus. A week earlier, Earhart said he attended tryouts at the school, where he worked out in seven-on-seven settings and in a full scrimmage. He said having teammate Xavier Harrison with him at the tryout helped him feel comfortable playing center back.
"They said they noticed I was very vocal from the start," Earhart said. "There is a lot of pressure on me knowing Gulf Coast is a very good soccer college in the state of Mississippi. I just know I have to keep pushing myself to get better and better."
New Hope (14-5) beat Corinth on penalty kicks in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State tournament. It lost to Northeast Jones in the second round.
Earhart, who was named The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week in January following a 1-0 victory against Kosciusko and a 2-0 victory against Itawamba Agricultural High, was one of 10 seniors on the team. He worked with classmates Harrison, Daniel Bradley, and Dawson Vasser and junior Nate Pope to form a defense that Olsen said was one of the strengths of the team.
Olsen said he knew Earhart's style of play and ability to read the ball would make an impression when coaches saw him play.
"I know the Gulf Coast coaches said what stood out to them was him being physical and his communication was big," Olsen said. "They said he was talking on the field and the next thing they looked up and he was taking out their best player."
Olsen said that effort isn't surprising because last season Earhart was the kind of player who wouldn't come off the field. In fact, he said Earhart played in a match last season after coming off a bout of mononucleosis and have everything he had.
Earhart said he credits his father, Adam, for helping to instill that determination in him. He said his father coached his brothers, J.D. and Parker, and worked with him in soccer growing up. Earhart said he is looking forward to the opportunity to move into center back as a freshman in college. He doesn't anticipate growing several inches or gaining 15 or 20 pounds. One thing he knows won't change is the attitude he brings to the field. Earhart is confident that drive and mentality to be the best will serve him well at the next level.
"My parents really raised me well," Earhart said. "I guess once my coach (coach Watson) put me in the center back and I was a captain my sophomore year it really helped me progress and I excelled with what I was doing.
"You just have to know there are people who are a lot better than you. You just have to keep trying harder and harder and act like they are just like you."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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