Austin Howard always had the speed and now he has the feet to go with it.

The Horizon Honors senior has become an offensive force on the soccer field in the early going to help the Eagles win five of its first six matches.

“He’s been on fire,” Horizon Honors coach Paul Ringgenberg said. “I knew he put in a lot of work and it is really paying off.”

Howard scored 13 goals in the team’s first five matches and looks to be one of the top teams in Division III, Section VI.

The breakout season is two-fold — first he has matured when it comes to attending to academics, and secondly he spent the offseason playing for the Premier Soccer Club.

“I missed a lot of last year because I was suspended (academically),” he said. “I don’t play a lot and then the same thing happened in track. I got tired of it and realized this is my life and I needed to take control of it. I started to apply himself.”

Getting his grades straightened out got him on the field, but his time at Premier has him excelling.

“His footwork is so much better and sometimes it seems like he can score at will,” Ringgenberg said. “It’s funny to see. There will be a crowd (of players) and all of a sudden he’s out in the open all by himself. He is so fast and there are very few players at this level that can keep up with him.”

Howard said he is just trying to make the most of the opportunities presented to him,

“My teammates have done a good job of getting me the ball in the open.” There is a little bit of pressure, but I like it. It’s good being the one scoring goals on a good team.

“This is one of the best team’s Horizon has ever had and we hope we do some things that haven’t been done before here.”

As strong as the Eagles’ offense has been with Howard flying from wings, the defense has been the strength of the team other than the lone defeat — a 5-1 loss to Maricopa — on the season.

The defense is led by Conner Pendleton and goalie Cole Powell, and a few others.

“We are really strong in the back end,” Ringgenberg said. “It’s where we have a bunch of seniors. I feel pretty good that they’ll get a stop and give us possession. It’s probably the strength of our team.”

The Eagles had one more regular season match on Thursday before taking a break until after Christmas when they will play in the Arizona Soccer Showcase Dec. 27-28 at the Reach 11 Sports Complex in Scottsdale.

The schedule will be difficult and come against programs from bigger divisions — Coconino, Camelback and Copper Canyon — and that can only be a good thing for this time of the season.

“We want and need to be tested,” Ringgenberg said. “It’s going to be a learning tool. It’s how you improve, measure yourself against better teams.”

The hope is the ramped-up schedule will end the annual script that has seen the Eagles make the postseason and get eliminated in the first round.

“We have the team to change that this year,” the second-year coach said. “It’s something we have to do to take the next step.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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