Zack Naughton is a hard-working student-athlete who is always striving to become a better player, a better leader, a better teammate, and a better person all-around on and off the soccer pitch.
He eats, sleeps, breathes, and lives the passion that started when he first started kicking around a soccer ball at six years old.
With his senior season over, Naughton is ready to face a new challenge. On Friday, he signed a national letter of intent to play soccer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Naughton said UNC was his dream school, and he can’t believe his dream is becoming a reality.
“I’m pretty happy and definitely excited for this big opportunity. I’m thankful for everybody that was there for me,” Naughton said. “I got on UNC’s recruiting radar by playing in Wilmington for my club team, and whenever I was there, we got a lot of exposure, and they were able to see me.
“Tough year with COVID, recruiting dead periods and everything, but UNC was able to see some live streams, and I’m thankful they were able to see me play.”
This season, Naughton scored a team-high 16 goals and eight assists. Naughton was also named to the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association all-state team.
Thanks to Naughton’s play on the pitch, and his leadership off the pitch, the Golden Falcons had a bounce-back season. After going 3-20 last season, the Golden Falcons had a 7-4-1 record this season.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this season had its ups and downs, but Naughton said he was glad to wear a C.B. Aycock jersey for a final season.
“Our coaching staff was great. John (John McIver) and I led by example, but we had a good group of players before us that showed us the ropes, and we were able to follow in their footsteps.”
Naughton plans to major in chemistry with a pre-med track. After college, he wants to follow in his brother’s footsteps and become a professional athlete.
“So, plan A is to become a professional soccer player, and I have a decent chance with UNC, but plan B is to become a doctor because one of the greatest things in life is the drive to do good for people, so being a doctor gives me a great chance to do that.”
Naughton’s presence commanded respect from opposing teams. He answered C.B. Aycock head coach Dominick Albano’s calls on every occasion and gave maximum effort, even if the result did not always favor his team.
During a game against South Central earlier this season, Naughton’s right ankle was hurting him, but he played the entire with his left foot.
“He made South Central think he was left-footed so that just speaks for itself,” Albano said
UNC finished 7-4-3 last season, including a 7-2-3 record against Atlantic Coast Conference opposition last season. Now with Naughton on the roster, the Tar Heels have a good shot at returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2018.
“It’s very exciting to see all the work Zack has put in all these years finally pay off for him. I really think he can rise to whatever level he’s playing at,” Albano said. “No matter where you stick him, he’s going to succeed because he just knows the game in and out so well. Honestly, out of everyone I’ve played with and coached, Zack has one of the best soccer IQs I’ve ever seen.”