At 6-3, there's really no place for Pavle Atanackovic to hide.
For a defender, it's not hard to have the Crescenta Valley High boys' soccer player in plain view. Trying to defend the junior forward might be another matter.
Atanackovic's quickly welcomed the role of drawing the opposing defense's attention and looking to lead the Falcons to a second straight Pacific League championship.
"My position is to either distribute the ball or turn around and shoot," said Atanackovic, who leads Crescenta Valley (5-2-5, 3-0-3 in league) with 13 goals and 28 points entering today's league road match against archrival Arcadia. "Things have been going well for me so far and I expect us to at least share league.
"I've learned a lot since my freshman year."
Flashing back two seasons, Atanackovic became a fixture in Crescenta Valley's budding lineup.
Atanackovic's new-found confidence spilled over to last season, when he factored into helping the Falcons win the program's first league crown. He finished with 12 goals en route to securing All-Area and all-league first-team accolades for the first time.
When Crescenta Valley Coach Kiel McClung took over the program from Tino Morfin last season, McClung didn't hesitate in finding a starting spot in the lineup for Atanackovic.
"When I first saw Pavle, I could see that he was naturally talented," McClung said. "He was young and maybe he didn't understand all of the points of the game.
"Last year, I challenged him to go play for a club team. He's grown so much since the start of last season."
Atanackovic joined Pasadena-based Futbol Club Golden State Soccer Club, which is coached by La Cañada High girls' soccer Coach Louie Bilowitz.
Atanackovic said Bilowitz, who led La Cañada's boys team to multiple CIF championships in the 1990s, helped him formulate a plan of attacking the net with crisp and accurate shots.
"He's helped me become a much better player," said Atanackovic, who served as place kicker on the Crescenta Valley football team this season and was named to the All-Area second team after kicking five field goals. "He saw how I could be able to distribute the ball or get off a good, hard shot."
Atanackovic has wasted little time serving notice for the Falcons, who are in first place in league. He recorded a hat trick to help spur visiting Crescenta Valley to a 3-1 season-opening nonleague victory against St. Francis on Nov. 30 at Friedman Field. Atanackovic then helped the Falcons kick off defense of their league championship by scoring four goals in a 5-1 home win against Burbank on Dec. 15.
"With the St. Francis game, it got me fired up after doing well in [club play]," Atanackovic said. "I just went out there and tried to play my game the best I could.
"I came in with a lot of confidence and I've seemed to have it ever since."
McClung said the Falcons have an advantage with Atanackovic handling the scoring responsibilities.
"He can handle the attack and he's played in some big matches with his premiere team," McClung said. "He's humble about what he can do and that's helped him mature and understand the game a lot more.
"At 6-3, he's very mobile and he can dribble so well along with shooting. Those kind of players are hard to come by."
Crescenta Valley junior forward Alex Berger said Atanackovic has gained important experience in recent seasons and it's paying off.
"He's just got that confidence and that willingness of not being afraid to take a shot," said Berger, who has recorded two goals and six assists this season. "He knows how to be in the right position at the right time and he's got that vision of where to be on the field at all times.
"Pavle's got that killer instinct that a lot of other players don't have. You have to be fearless in front of the goal."
With eight regular season matches left for the Falcons, Atanackovic said he's ready and able to make things happen on offense for Crescenta Valley.
Yes, there will be some tough moments encountered along the way, but it won't deter Atanackovic from doing what he does best.
"If you can go out there believing you can do something, then you can achieve that," Atanackovic said. "I want to be able to go out there and help my team win anyway I can."