From the moment he saw Gyasi Zardes for the first time, CSU Bakersfield soccer coach Simon Tobin knew he was watching a special talent.
And Zardes is living up to that first impression this season, his sophomore year with the Roadrunners.
He opened this season with three goals in each of CSUB's first two matches, and he added two more goals on Thursday against Cal State Northridge.
That's eight goals in CSUB's first four matches.
"The best we've ever had here," Tobin said. "Here's a kid, as good as he is, he could be playing for a pro team."
Tobin vividly remembers the first time he saw Zardes show off his skills during a workout.
"After 20 minutes, you could see it: This kid is at another level," Tobin said.
Calling Zardes the best player in CSUB's history is quite a statement.
Two former Roadrunners -- 1997 Division II Player of the Year Joe Munoz and outstanding goalkeeper Josh Wicks, a Roadrunner from 2001-04 -- have Major League Soccer experience and at least 15 other former Roadrunners have also played professionally.
And Zardes, who turned 20 on Sept. 1 and has a parttime job at Jamba Juice when he's not attending class or playing soccer, could join them after this season. "His Christmas decision: Should he stay in school or play professional?" Tobin said. "He could play MLS or in Europe. I'd say there's a 75 percent chance he'll go pro."
Playing pro is on Zardes' radar.
"I want to make my living playing soccer," he said, adding he isn't ready to make a decision on whether that will happen this year.
"It's too hard to tell," he said. "My dad says to always stay in college and get my degree."
Zardes made a name for himself last season when he was named Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Newcomer of the Year and first-team All-MPSF.
He tied for second in the conference with six assists (he added a seventh assist in a non-conference match) and added five goals.
But the goal scoring outburst this season has been unprecedented in the 33-year history of soccer at CSUB.
Ayman Hamid, who played at CSUB from 1992-95, is the only other player in the program's history with two hat tricks, and those happened in different seasons.
The last season CSUB had a hat trick was in 2003 when Matt O'Sullivan and Kyle Gookins did it in separate matches.
But two in a row?
"I'm not sure how often that happens," said Tobin, who's coached at CSUB since 1987.
Zardes could have had a third hat trick on Thursday. He had two goals in a four-minute span of the first half, and narrowly missed scoring three other goals after that.
Zardes played high-level competition before setting foot on the the CSUB Main Soccer Field.
A four-year starter at Hawthorne-Leuzinger High School in Southern California, Zardes played on the Los Angeles Galaxy Club team in the Under-20 national championships in 2010. His club won its first four matches, then lost 2-1 to the Columbus (Ohio) Crew in the finals. Zardes had the only goal for his team.
While playing at the club level in high school, Zardes made an impression on Keith Costigan, a former Roadrunner player and current assistant coach. Costigan was not yet an assistant at CSUB at that time.
"He called me and said I needed to take a look at this kid," Tobin said.
Zardes began getting recruited after he attended a soccer showcase in Bradenton, Fla., during his senior year at Leuzinger in 2009. Those type of events attract many college coaches.
"There were over 200 players, maybe 300," he said. "Youth 16s, also 17s and 18s."
He said George Mason, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton and Loyola Marymount expressed interest, along with CSUB.
Bakersfield won out.
"The recruiting trip got me," Zardes said. "I was worried about getting sidetracked from school work. If I came here, I could really buckle down on school and on the field.
"LMU was not far from my home. Friends would call up and say, 'Let's go out.'"
Zardes was unable to play his first year at CSUB. He said he was not granted eligibility by the NCAA Clearinghouse, which determines whether prospective college athletes are eligible to play sports at the NCAA Division I level.
Zardes began playing soccer at age 4. He had plenty of family backing: older brothers Glenn Jr. (who's 26), Gabriel (25) and Garcel (22) also played soccer, and influenced their younger sibling.
"I think I got the best from all of them," he said. "My oldest brother has an amazing foot. My second-oldest has great ball control and my other brother has an amazing shot."
Zardes also played football at Leuzinger High. A place-kicker, Zardes said he had football scholarship offers from Penn State, Oregon State and Boise State.
"My dad wanted me to play football, but I felt more comfortable in soccer," Zardes said. "If you have a bad snap and get hurt (in football), it's the end of your career."
He's had two straight conference Player of the Week honors already this season, and Zardes knows his goal scoring had led to more intense defending by opponents.
Still, he managed to work free for a CSUB-record nine shots vs. UC Davis in the Roadrunners' third game this season, which ended 0-0. One of Zardes' shots hit the post but bounced away.
"I know it's coming," Zardes said of the intense defense. "But if they put more people on me, it opens it up for Chuy (Jesus Sanchez, last season's MPSF Player of the Year) and Richie (Menjivar). They can score just as well as I can."
Zardes isn't taking anything for granted. He puts in extra time working on his skills.
"I show up 25 minutes before practice and I set up my own finishing drills," he said. "After that I work on heading the ball. And dribbling and finding the net."