SPRINGFIELD — About 40 yards out, Grant Oliver of Effingham County High School lines up the team’s free kick. He doesn’t have to think about where he will place it.
Four times this football season, Oliver has crossed a pass in the box and his teammate Javier Espin has directed it towards the goal.
“I have a simple job: just get it there and he will score for me,” Oliver said.
It’s not exactly a simple pass, but Oliver makes the spectacular, silver pass look easy. And the senior seems to be making a lot of things easier for the Rebels football team.
As a central midfielder, Oliver transitions from defense to attack and has made big plays in recent wins over Bradwell Institute (a 3-1 decision) and Richmond Hill (2-1).
His 25-yard shot inside the left corner of the goal was the game-winner against the Wildcats. He had a goal and another assist for Espin against Bradwell.
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And after an 0-4 start in the 2-6A region, the CHS, now trending up 2-4, reside in a group of five teams (third to seventh) separated by half a game in the ranking.
“Grant is our point guard and it’s nice to have a 5-foot-10, 180-pound player in the middle,” Rebels coach Austin Czachowski said. “He is aggressive, physical and very good with the ball at his feet. You can plug it in anywhere and it will do a good job. He is special. It’s Mr. Reliable.
Mr. Dependable played on the varsity team for four years, starting as a freshman (playing with his older brother Cole, now playing at Piedmont College), eventually moving to defense and wing for the next two years. Czachowski said Oliver even played half as a goalkeeper last season.
He’s also been a good fit in the middle, scoring four goals and providing six assists in eight games.
“This year we’ve been through different formations and put guys in different places, and I think we’ve finally found what works best for us as a team,” said Oliver, captain for two years. “CAM (Central Attacking Midfielder) is a versatile position that can help in attack or defense. I like being able to get up there and score if I need to.
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As versatile as Oliver is on the pitch, he is just as versatile off the pitch. He is involved in his church, plays drums in a jazz band, and has been dual-enrolled for the past two years at Georgia Southern University.
He was a placekicker and defensive back in the ECHS football team two years ago, but gave up football when he joined the NPL side Tormenta FC Academy – a youth team that plays at regional level.
“I trained three days a week with Tormenta and I think it helped me a lot,” Oliver said. “I had very good coaching and was able to train with pros and ML Next players. The season ended in January, so it worked well with the high school season.
Oliver said a few colleges, Coker University and Warren Wilson College, have shown some interest.
A year ago, ECHS only won four games and failed to qualify for the state tournament. But with a 4-4 midseason record, the Rebels have regained their optimism.
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ECHS played hard at unbeaten Glynn Academy (11-0) before losing 4-0. The Rebels blew a two-goal lead against Brunswick and took South Effingham into extra time before losing on penalties.
“Last year some players didn’t like each other and that played a part in how we worked (poorly) as a team,” Oliver said. “This year we have more chemistry, or at least we are getting there. … I think our region is fair. Glynn, obviously, has a great record, but I don’t think one team is that much better than the other.