Liam Boger has worked for this for a long time.
The Warren Area High School senior recently signed to play soccer in the fall for Division I LaSalle University.
It has a lot of special meaning, furthering his education at LaSalle. It's where both his father and mother went to college.
Photo by Denny Kyser
More than that, Liam decided to focus several years ago on doing whatever it took to play Division I soccer. At the time, no other Warren County School District soccer player had ever gone D-1. Since, Boger's former teammate Christian Harrington has played D-1 soccer at St. Francis University. But that doesn't make the accomplishment of being the county's second D-I soccer player less worthwhile.
"It's an honor," said Boger, a sophomore when Warren won the school's first District 10 championship in 2010.
Boger was in middle school when traveling back with his father, Paul, from a U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program tournament in Pittsburgh.
"I think it opened his eyes as to how much talent was out there," said his father, Paul. "On the drive back, he asked me, 'Has anyone from Warren ever played Division I soccer?' I said, not to my knowledge and he said, 'I'm going to do it.'"
Liam's father knew what that would entail, with extra travel to get to better and more and more competition.
That included not only the Kinzua Soccer Club, but the Erie Admirals, a premiere amateur soccer program out of Erie, Pa., and also countless soccer camps and clinics.
"He put pressure on himself," said Paul. "I tried to be his sports psychologist as much as I could. It never became like work to him. He plays best when he's just playing, having fun."
Liam's father told him that as long as he kept up his grades, he would do whatever he could to help his son fulfill his dream to play D-I soccer. He certainly wasn't going to dissuade him, but he knew what Liam was up against being from a rural area, starting with the chauffeuring all over by his mom, Vivien.
"It was pretty tough," said Paul. "Showcase tournaments and combines and things - there are mostly Division II and Division III teams (there). With the D-I teams, it's much tougher to get under their noses; not just for a college to pick you but for you to pick a college."
Paul said there's not enough money available to college soccer programs to invest time recruiting an athlete unless they know, for sure, you're "a warm target.
"I think that's why they at least gave him a look at LaSalle because they knew he was a warm target," said Paul.
Liam went to a camp at LaSalle, "and after that the coaches said to keep in touch," Liam said.
"I also had a similar situation with the Duquesne coaches," said Liam, "(but) I stayed overnight at LaSalle with some players and spent some time with the team. The coaches were really nice guys, and I could tell that I would be in good hands. After going to some classes, I could definitely see myself going there."
"He had a set of requirements," said his father. "He wanted to go to an urban campus, with liberal arts, good sciences and pre-med, and Division I soccer."
"When I finally talked to the LaSalle coaches about getting a spot, that's when I realized I was going to do it.
"It helped to just get my name out there," said Boger. "E-mails to coaches, letting them know I was interested and what tournaments I would be playing in, were a good way to get on the radar. The biggest thing was just meeting them and having them see me play, whether it was tournaments or clinics. The clubs in Erie do a good job of getting into showcase tournaments, along with going to camps at colleges. Mikkel Danielson, a Danish exchange student staying in Warren this year, filmed all of the games from this year's high school season. He made an awesome highlight real for me, and it proved to be a big help as well."
Liam wasn't the primary goal-scorer on the Dragons' Region 4 (Class AA) championship team. He was more than that.
"Look at it like American football - he would be the quarterback," said Warren coach Tom Harrington. "He isn't the guy who catches the ball for the touchdown, he's the guy responsible for the guy catching it.
"I do know (Liam) has the skill-set (to play Division I college soccer)," said Harrington. "He's a very hard worker and I could see at an early age that he was very talented also."
When asking Liam what the most important stat for his position at attacking midfield, he didn't hesitate.
"Wins," said Boger.
But he's also the all-time tackles and steals leader in program history, with 2,152 combined in four years. He added 53 goals and 50 assists as a four-year letterman and senior captain.
"Wins are a huge part of it," said Harrington, "because with soccer, if you can put the team first, which is something Liam always did, everything else works itself out."
Boger tried the sport because he thought his older cousin, Richie Peterson, was "cool," he said. "I wanted to be cool, too. But as I've gotten older, I've grown to love the team aspect. So much of soccer is played on the fly; there isn't much time to plan things out. If you aren't on the same page, it's hard to compete.
"I started playing with the YMCA rec league in U8 (under-8) and ever since it's been soccer, soccer, soccer," said Boger, who was a first-team Region 4 all-star on offense, but is also a varsity tennis player and has been on the swim team. "Getting into high school, I started to feel pressure of getting noticed. I felt the stress of performing my best at every tournament and game because you never know who may be watching. Eventually, I realized that when I was having fun and relaxed, I was playing my best."
Boger knows he will have to work hard to impress and to get better, but that is where he has been the past several years.
"He has said, the idea of training every day with guys that good, being one of the lesser-skilled guys on the team (at the beginning), and learning and pushing himself, he's very excited about that," said Paul.
His father noticed almost right away that when Liam stepped on a field with better players, his game got better.
"Every time I play, there's something new," said Boger. "All the coaches for Kinzua, Erie Premier, and Erie Admirals have contributed something different to my game. Each has their own style, and the bits and pieces I've gained from each coach, I think, have given me a unique style. I'm thankful to have had so much valuable input given to me.
"After losing Christian Harrington, Brad Simmons, Tyler Madigan and the rest of the seniors to graduation, there were some gaps to fill (on the Warren Dragons)," said Boger. "We adjusted to keep a strong defense, but tried to maintain a dangerous attack. At center mid, I tried to facilitate transitions from defense to offense. I'd like to think of myself as a versatile player, if something needs to happen I'll try to make it happen. Stats are a good way to gauge how you're playing, but the most telling stat is whether you win or lose."
Boger showed his character when, in Warren's playoff loss, he slid hard into the goalpost and cut his knee wide open.
"My head was still in the game, and I felt like I should have been out there," said Boger. "I know for a fact that the loss wasn't for lack of effort. We fought hard until the end, just couldn't get the win. I was ready to play again in about three weeks."
And, now, on to LaSalle.
"Freshmen typically don't get much playing time, but I'm going to be working for a spot," said Boger. "They've talked mostly about using me in center mid. I have experience playing outside back, winger, and forward, so I could end up playing anywhere really. The team plays in the Atlantic 10 and play against St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, and other teams, along with Philadelphia schools."
"He's a very talented kid and he's going to work hard and bide his time, and he'll get there," said Harrington, "whether it's his first year or second year or third year, he'll get there. I'm confident of that."