Pedro Ghanem admitted he was nervous when his family moved from Brazil to Georgia during his eighth-grade year.
It’s hard for teenagers to change schools at all, let alone move from one country to another in the middle of the school year. But that’s exactly what Ghanem went through when his family moved to Kennesaw.
A few months later, the Ghanems settled in Cartersville, Pedro joined the Canes' soccer team and he found his new home.
“I love doing soccer, and the guys who are my teammates are very nice too,” Ghanem said. “It’s awesome.”
He showed flashes of brilliance during his freshman season, but Ghanem absolutely erupted his sophomore campaign. A midfielder by trade, he thrived playing primarily at forward for the Canes, scoring 34 goals and adding six assists to land Region 5-AAAA player of the year.
It also made him a no-brainer choice for The Daily Tribune News Player of the Year honor.
“Our offense ran through him,” Cartersville head coach D.J. Paradis said. “He pretty much scored in every single game and was at least involved, in some way, in almost every single goal this year. …
“He was the motor of our team offensively this year. He created space for us, even when he didn’t have the ball. Him being involved in attack allowed other players chances, because you had to account for him. No matter who we were playing, they had to know where he was on the field at all times.”
After helping the Canes win a region title, Ghanem scored twice in Cartersville’s 3-2 loss to Chestatee in the second-round of the Class 4A state playoffs. He also scored both goals in a 3-2 loss to Northwest Whitfield earlier in the season.
Northwest Whitfield went on to defeat Chestatee in the state championship game, ironically by a 3-2 score, showing just how much the play of Ghanem elevated Cartersville to an elite level.
Whether he was playing the best competition in the state or just a random region opponent, every team seemed to have the same strategy: stop Ghanem. It took a while for him to adjust, but he fully accepted the challenge.
“At the beginning, that was kind of hard,” Ghanem said. “But then I noticed that most of the schools were doing that, so I had to open up my game. I just showed up.”
The downside, if you want to call it that, to having a player as gifted as Ghanem, is the possibility of him leaving for greener soccer fields.
He’s had scouts from Atlanta United watch him play, and he’s currently working to see what club team he can join this summer. That decision will likely determine whether he continues to play for the Cartersville High team, because some forbid their players from competing at the high school level.
“He’s probably one of the best in the state when it comes to high school soccer with his finishing, his ability to create space and make his own space,” Paradis said. “He did that a bunch this year. He stepped up to the challenge every game that we needed him to. I think he loved that challenge of being the man on the team and everyone is out to get you. I think he relished that challenge. Very few teams were able to limit him or stop him. …
“I look forward to the next two years with him — if everything works out and he’s able to be with us the next two years — that he’s going to keep being that player that pushes our team forward in our region and in our playoff aspirations.”
For what it’s worth, the soft-spoken Ghanem said he plans to play for the Canes his final two years and graduate from Cartersville. He also sounds ready to carry the team to new heights.
“It was great,” Ghanem said of this past season. “This year was better than last year, and I hope next year will be even better.”
While Paradis would obviously love to have his star player in the fold the next two seasons, he understands that Ghanem and his family have to do what’s best for his future, because that future appears to be incredibly bright.
“He deserves whatever he gets when it comes to club ball,” Paradis said. “He has the ability to play at the next level, and I don’t mean just college. He has the ability to play pro ball eventually down the line. I think he just has that kind of skill.”
If Ghanem does indeed return to the Canes, it will be a massive boost. The program bid farewell to several quality players when the Class of 2018 graduated. But with Ghanem on the field, Paradis almost always has the best player on his side.
Now, he’s looking for Ghanem to take on more of a leadership role with the likes of Grant Farmer and Houston Read leaving.
“Next year, I think he’s going to have to step into more of a leadership role,” Paradis said. “All the players already look up to him. … He’s going to have to be the leader next year. He will set the tone for us not only in games but also in practice. When you’re ‘the man,’ you also have to be ‘the man’ in a leadership role.”
He’s already shown some great leadership attributes. A lot of players with his goal-scoring prowess don’t feel the need to track back and contribute defensively.
That’s not the case with Ghanem.
“When we needed to sub out our center mids, he was willing to step back there and play,” Paradis said. “His speed was able to stop a lot of attacks from forming before they ever happened. He just has a knack for knowing where the ball is going. He always seemed like he was in the right place at the right time.
“There’s not enough you can say about what he did for our team this year. He was the reason we achieved a lot of our goals this year.”
Ghanem, though, isn’t a normal forward given his background as a midfielder. He likes playing in the middle of the park, which allows him take on more of a facilitator role.
“I like to create a lot,” he said.
That willingness to distribute and bring others into the attack, especially when he has the skill to take on multiple defenders, helped endear Ghanem to his teammates. They, in turn, made him feel accepted and at home on the soccer fields of Cartersville.
“He’s a very likable kid, everyone on the soccer team liked him from the beginning,” Paradis said. “He’s a smart kid, a funny kid. He’s got it all. He’s got the skill, he’s got the brains and he’s got the character.”