HE was top of the class from the moment Gary van Egmond first laid eyes on him.
At the time, van Egmond was working as Newcastle United's development officer, and part of his brief involved preparing an under-11 training squad for entry into the Sydney competition the following season.
A young midfielder from Broadmeadow Magic, with skills and poise beyond his years, caught his eye.
The kid was Ben Kantarovski.
"We had a number of boys come and train with us, but Benny was a bit of a standout," van Egmond recalled.
Fast-forward five years and the careers of both van Egmond and his protege have progressed remarkably.
The former is now coach of the Newcastle Jets, the reigning A-League champions. The latter is the youngest player in A-League history, having made his debut against Central Coast in Friday's grand final rematch at the age of 16 years and 208 days.
Playing alongside Adam Griffiths as central defender, Kantarovski was cool, calm and collected and generally lived up to his reputation as one of Australian soccer's most promising prospects.
In the same week that Gold Coast Titans gambled by selecting 16-year-old Jordan Rankin for his NRL debut, Kantarovski was going through a similar dream-come-true initiation with the Jets.
The Australian under-17 representative showed no sign of nerves, perhaps because he had been training with Newcastle's senior squad for the best part of 12 months and played a full game against Adelaide during the Pre-Season Cup.
The faith of his coach should also have put him at ease.
Asked before the match whether it would be a gamble to select the youngster in the F3 derby, van Egmond replied with conviction: "If I play him, it won't be a gamble. It's because he's earned it."
After the game, Kantarovski received a resounding thumbs-up from the man who identified his talent five years ago and instantly realised it was a matter of when, not if, he started playing at professional level.
"There's no deep end with Benny," van Egmond said. "He's a class act.
"He's only going to get better, which is a little bit frightening.
"He plays in the centre of midfield, but tonight he played at centre back and looked like he'd been doing it for a while.
"He's a very calm boy, technically good, very good attitude. I think the future's good for Ben."
The Lambton High School year 11 student celebrated with a couple of lemon squashes at Jets owner Con Constantine's Adamstown sports club, but before the weekend was out he was catching up on his study.
"We're very mindful of his education," van Egmond said. "At the start of the year we met with the principal, just to see how we could work it all in with his HSC.
"We need to get the balance right for Ben, because his education is extremely important . . . he's quite academic, and I know his family want him to do well with his education."
Van Egmond described Kantarovski as a "level-headed kid", and the youngster gave the impression his first taste of A-League football was about as strenuous as a stroll around the school playground.
"I wasn't nervous at all," he said. "I was a bit cold that was about it. Other than that I felt at home.
"It was pretty much everything I had been looking forward to and training for. It wasn't too bad."
Juggling educational and sporting commitments is no bother, either.
"I think I've got a good mix," he said.
"I don't get bored after training, because I've always got some [school] work to do."
His classmates are apparently unlikely to treat him any differently after Friday night's milestone.
"I'm just another kid, but they like to take the piss out of me," he said with a laugh.
Asked what his long-term goals were, Kantarovski replied: "Just to get a starting spot in the A-League and see where that takes me. Maybe overseas wherever."
And if Jets fans are excited about Kantarovski's potential, the news just gets better he has two brothers, Alex (15) and Michael (13), who are both regulars in junior rep teams.
Newcastle have their rising star signed to a four-year deal, and van Egmond said his development would be a gradual process.
"It's important that he doesn't do too much," he said. "We have to be very mindful of his age, but he's a wonderful talent."
Teammate Joel Griffiths put Kantarovski's achievement in context with a cheeky one-liner after Friday night's game.
"He's still lining up to go to Harry Potter, that's how young he is," Griffiths joked.
Like JK Rowling's fictional wizard, Kantarovski could be weaving his magic for many years to come.