The first thing you'll notice about Farrel South is his shot.
It stands out in a water polo match, on the high school level or at the next level. And that's just from the bleachers — imagine how fast it must seem in the water as the ball speeds by your noggin.
"He has a special talent, a gift, as far as that goes," Newport Harbor High Coach Jason Lynch said. "He can basically throw the ball harder than most national team players."
South, a junior utility player for the Sailors, uses his gift to benefit the team. He has 64 goals this year, more than double any other player for Newport Harbor (14-2).
The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week is coming off what is perhaps his best game in a Newport Harbor Speedo, scoring six goals as the Tars fell to Sunset League rival Los Alamitos, 10-9, in overtime at last Saturday night's S&R Sport Cup championship match.
Plenty of those six goals were rocket shots.
"That's how I've always thrown it," said South, who uses more of a non-traditional sidearm motion. "It's not something I enjoy bragging about, but it's something I'm fortunate to have."
The Sailors are fortunate to have their two-year starter as well. But more than just a hard shot, his maturation as a player has been clear.
Against Los Alamitos, he played at two meters. In the last couple of weeks, with sophomore Benton Carpenter coming back from a concussion, South has also stepped up to the challenge of two-meter defender.
"He's pretty versatile," Lynch said. "It used to be common that if he'd defend the center, he'd get ejected right away. He's been more patient, more cognizant of what he's doing … I've seen a much more mature attitude and a desire to learn. He's been a pleasure to teach and to coach."
Last year, South was a starter but he described himself as more of a role player on a senior-dominated team. He was able to brush aside some early-season nerves to earn second-team All-Sunset League honors and help Newport Harbor reach the CIF Southern Section Division I title match.
"I was pretty nervous about it," South said. "I was talking to some of the seniors on the team, and they said, 'You're probably going to be splitting time with me, or splitting time with so-and-so.' It turned out, I wasn't really splitting time. I was actually starting."
Now, he's the only returning starter in the field. He's clearly a go-to guy, coming off a summer in which he went to Italy to play with the U.S. men's junior national team.
South has always had the big shot, ever since he started playing water polo when he was 9. He got into the sport when his father, Ken, who played polo at Newport in the late 1970s and later at USC, brought him to a match.
"He got me into playing polo and it kind of grew on me," said Farrel South, who before playing water polo used to play basketball at the Boys & Girls Club.
He has put in the work. South is more patient now on offense, Lynch said, and that helps open things up for the Sailors.
"When I was in age-group, anyone who could shoot the ball could really shoot it from anywhere and probably score," South said. "I was living in that mindset until freshman year, and then [Lynch] started getting on me about it."
Lynch got on the Sailors on Thursday, too, after not being too satisfied with their narrow 4-3 victory over Huntington Beach the previous night. That meant 90 minutes of straight sprinting in the pool Thursday morning, and stadium running in the afternoon.
South is honest about that game, saying the Sailors' offense was "just terrible." It is clear the team's game, like his own, has even more room for improvement.
Honesty is a mature approach that he even finds when talking about his birthday, which falls on New Year's Eve every year.
"When I was younger, I hated it, because I didn't really think anyone cared about my birthday," South said. "Everyone was always gone. Now it's just, 'Whatever.' It's just a birthday."
Lynch and the Sailors are glad their emerging star doesn't have the same attitude toward polo.