By Irene Galgan; Contributing Writer
Brandon Oot of LaFayette is leaving home this weekend to become the newest member of the U.S. men's under-17 National Team. At 16, Oot will train and study full-time at the National Team's residency camp, the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Oot will be part of a team preparing to represent the United States in worldwide soccer competition and develop a career in professional soccer, a path followed by other Academy alumni such as current World Cup stars Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley.
"Amazing," was how Oot described the academy on returning from an orientation program. The 6-foot, 170-pound player would have been a junior at Manlius-Pebble Hill High School in the fall, but he now plans to complete his junior and senior years through accelerated studies at the IMG Academy by May 2003.
"When school finishes, we'll be training full-time for the August 2003 under-17 World Cup in Finland," he said.
Oot, the only player from New York on the team, will be home twice a semester to visit with his parents, Carol Oot of LaFayette and Dan Oot of Mattydale, and his sister, Abbey Oot.
Oot leaves this weekend for North Carolina, where he will practice with the team. They then leave for Finland, where they will begin preparing for next year's competition. School starts Sept. 2 back in Florida.
"I'll only be back a few weeks before we leave again for tournaments in Italy," said Oot, who will play the sweeper position. Also on the schedule is training in Mexico and an appearance at the Disney Showcase in Orlando in December.
Carol Oot, who attended the orientation with her son, said Brandon has come a long way from his first soccer kicks at age 4 with a recreational league in Syracuse's Valley section.
"He's always had a passion for the game," she said.
At 7, Oot joined the Syracuse Blitz Samba Beat club team coached by Bob Escobar.
In Oot's first year in the New York State West Olympic Development Program, he was selected for the Region 1 team in the spring, where he was quickly noticed for his speed, strength and skills. He made one appearance with a youth National Team in Mexico in 2001, but it was Oot's outstanding play at an inter-regional event in Costa Rica last February that got the attention of National Team coach John Ellinger and eventually led to his invitation to the academy.
After a preliminary visit and family discussions, Oot said he was 100 percent sure it was the right opportunity for him.
"If I didn't do it, I would always wonder "what if?'" he said.
Carol Oot said she was impressed with the academy staff's commitment, dedication and support provided for education, sports psychology, conditioning and nutrition.
Brandon says the excitement over the recent World Cup performance by the U.S. men's team has inspired a new level of confidence in Bradenton, fueling speculation that the National Team pool may be expanded for the future.
2002 The Post-Standard. Used with permission of the author.