Thursday, February 4, 2010

Preps: South Florida beckons for four Chargers

CLEARWATER – As was the case at signing ceremonies across the area, and likely the country on Wednesday, the excitement level at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa was high.

“This is just a great feeling,” Berkeley Prep’s T.J. Roehn said. “I’ve been dreaming about this for a while, so it’s just awesome.”

Roehn was one of 27 Clearwater Chargers who signed with their respective colleges on Wednesday night. With another two of the clubs’ players already enrolled at the schools of their choice, it was the largest class the Chargers program has ever produced.

In amongst those were four players, including Roehn, who will continue their careers in Tampa at the University of South Florida. Joining Roehn were his Under-18 Academy teammates Ben Sweat (Palm Harbor), Javon Bostic (East Lake) and Shane Wixted (Seminole). Wixted shared Roehn’s excitement at the opportunity to continue his career as a Bull.

“It means a lot to me,” Wixted said. “I’ve worked hard for this my whole life since I was 4 years old, and now I’ve going to get to accomplish my dream.”

All of the players gave credit to the Chargers’ Academy program for helping them get this far. Other members of the team that signed on Wednesday included Tampa Prep’s Wes Sever (George Mason) and Anthony Baumann (Providence), Mitchell’s Max Rockwell (Southern Methodist) and Berkeley Prep’s Michael Attal (Columbia). Established three years ago, the elevated level of play and practice the Chargers get from the U.S. Soccer Federation Development Academy League has helped the players, as has the exposure they get from being part of the USSF Academy set-up.

“The Chargers have done so many things for me, not just as a player but as a person,” Wixted said. “Just playing-wise, I’ve become such a better player because they have great coaches there.”

South Florida recruiting local players strongly is nothing new. Wharton’s Ogi Perucica is part of the Bulls outgoing senior class, and players like goalkeeper Jeff Attinella from Countryside, who was named a First Team All-American last December, Fernando Gonzalez of Gaither and Sebastian Thuriere of Seminole have become fixtures in the Bulls starting XI.

For this many players from one club to be going to the same school together, though, is somewhat unprecedented. Chargers Academy coach Garth Pollonais said he believes the Bulls are making an even stronger effort than in the past to recruit the best of the local talent.

“I think USF realized we have a lot of talent in our own backyard,” Pollonais said. “So even though they will still get foreign players, they know there’s a crop of players in their backyard, so they took a close look at the crop of players in their backyard and realized, ‘hey, we’ve got some players who could come in and really make an impact for our program, and we don’t have to go all over the country to find them.’ So fortunately for us, they got four of them.”

Ben Sweat was the first of the quartet to commit, closely followed by Roehn and Bostic before Wixted decommitted from Providence to also become a Bull. But while players often factor in the decisions of their teammates, all the Chargers players said their teammates’ decisions weren’t that big a factor in their decision, Bostic saying he had his sights set on being a Bull from the moment he arrived from Arizona four years ago.

“I went to a summer camp there, and I just fell in love with the place,” Bostic said. “I got lots of offers, but as soon as USF offered me, I was hooked and I committed right away.”

That said, all four players are glad they will have friends on the team when they enroll with South Florida in the fall as they look forward to the chance to continue their careers together.

“It’s a really good feeling,” Sweat said. “It’s just a dream. Big East school, top 5 in the country, it’s a dream come true.”

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