Like most serious soccer players, Tampa Palms’ Patrick Callahan has dreams of playing professionally, and there are few places better to do that than in England’s Premier League.
And, while he is still years away from playing at that level, the chance to play and study nearby in one of soccer’s hotbeds was too good for Callahan and recent Liberty Middle School student and Lutz resident Julio Plata to pass up.
Both players were recently awarded scholarships to Brooke House College football academy in Market Harborough, England, less than an hour north of London by train.
Brooke House College is similar to Bradenton’s IMG Academy and Saddlebrook Prep in Wesley Chapel, in that it attracts international athletes to board at the school while undergoing intensive training in their sport while maintaining high academic standards.
The two-year scholarships are valued at roughly $45,000 per year. That includes travel costs; the academy went to Budapest, Hungary, for a tournament last month.
“They have a lot of great facilities,’’ said Callahan, who completed his freshman year at King High last spring. “It’s a great school, they have a really nice gym and training facility. When you train, they have you wear a vest tracking everywhere you run, it’s state of the art. School is like 5-6 hours a day, with small classes, tutoring and you train like six days a week. That’s the amazing part, that you get to play that much.”
Callahan’s father, John, encouraged his son to accept the scholarship offer. John was pleased with both the athletic and academic aspects of the program.
“He will be SAT-ready when he’s done,’’ he said.
The 15-year-old Callahan currently plays club soccer for the Temple Terrace-based Florida Soccer Club (FSC) Spirit of Tampa Bay U16, and already has some experience playing soccer abroad. His mother, Grace Amparo Callahan, is from Ecuador, and on past family summer trips to her country, he would often practice and play with the college players there.
“That’s what I’m expecting at Brook House, a high level of play,’’ he said.
The first day of tryouts for this unique “futbol” academy consisted of soccer drills and scrimmages, with Brooke House College coaches Mickey Adams and Lawrie Dudfeld looking on.
Callahan, who is tall and fast for his age, said was nervous at first.
“I remember I messed up one or two times, and they were like, ‘All right, big guy, get back to it,’” Patrick said. “At first I was playing kind of iffy. But in the scrimmage, I felt I was doing good and standing out. I felt that’s what got me to the next day.”
Plata, 13, who has been playing for the FC Tampa Rangers club team, felt he did well in the drills. A midfielder, he said he just tried to keep the ball at his teammates’ feet.
“I really just wanted to pass the ball and not lose it,’’ he said, smiling.
Day 2 featured a number of games, and Callahan remembers scoring a particularly impressive goal — beating two defenders before depositing the ball into the upper corner — that caught the coaches’ attention
The coaches pared down the group, and announced they would be picking two players to receive the scholarships. Callahan and Plata were among more than 20 finalists at the final day interviews.
Callahan wasn’t sure he pulled it off in the interviews, but was relived to hear his name called.
“At first, I was so excited,’’ he says. “I called my grandma, she lives with my aunt, and I heard them screaming and excited on the other line. I posted a picture with the news on Instagram and, in an hour, gained like 100 followers. That was really cool, too.”
For Plata and Callahan, the Brooke House College football academy opportunity is a chance to hone their soccer skills with top, hand-selected competition.
Founded in 2008, the program boasts more than 70 players ages 13-19 filling four club teams that play in the Junior Premier League and other leagues, while also competing in various cups across Europe, and has produced 12 professional players.
Callahan and Plata, though, both say that if they can come back better players than when they left, it will help their chances to play collegiately in the U.S.
They are both awaiting their visas from the British Consulate in New York, and are eager to book their flights.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Plata says, “but I’m excited to go.”