DeMatha Catholic High School has long been synonymous with dominant soccer.
National titles, undefeated seasons and WCAC championships have become a common occurrence for the Stags.
Now, an idea that assistant varsity soccer coach Jamie O'Connor said has been the works “for years” has come to fruition, and it could make DeMatha even better.
This coming season, DeMatha coach Dafydd Evans and his staff are planning to roll out the Football Club of DeMatha — a program that would allow high school players to participate in their regular high school season, as well as a 10-month club schedule. To be eligible for the club, players are required to be enrolled in the Hyattsville school by the time the season begins. Starting in the fall, the club will field three teams: Under 14/15, U16 and U18.
“It's the first time that we know of in this country that a school has played high school as well as club ball,” O'Connor said. “Being a school, we have access to fields, weight rooms, film rooms and other things, which is more along the lines of a European-type of system.”
Last season, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy mandated that no player who plays for an academy team would be allowed to also play for their high school club. The rule affected many teams throughout Maryland, DeMatha included. O'Connor is hoping the creation of the Football Club of DeMatha will help the Stags retain top talent that might otherwise be swayed to play academy soccer.
“It's not the main reason [we created the club], but it is always looming in the back of our minds,” O'Connor said. “All soccer in the country changes yearly. It's unfair to the kids. Maybe myself and the other coaches are slightly biased, but when you're playing for your school and for your community, there's a lot more on the line than when you're playing for your club.”
That's part of the reason DeMatha's coaches have decided to make this program exclusive to Stags players. O'Connor said he and the school's lawyers and athletics director all met extensively with one another to make sure that the new club fell within all local and national soccer guidelines and restrictions.
“The aim of the club will be to harness the marriage of elite youth soccer development alongside excellent in academics,” Evans said in a press release. “The relationship between the two is key to produce the collegiate soccer player of the highest quality.”
Evans, who frequently travels back and forth between the United States and Wales — and has been working toward his masters degree in the offseason — hopes to bring the club's players overseas regularly so they can train and develop. Evans has ties to Swansea City A.F.C. in the English Premier League, and the plan is for DeMatha's club players to travel to Wales and play friendlies against local academy teams, O'Connor said.
“We're hoping to make everything merge together, so now they'll play under one system and set of coaches so that we can best evaluate their talent and strengths,” O'Connor said. “It will make it easier for the students, the parents and the coaches. We'll be able to attract some good-quality soccer players and students.”
Another important caveat regarding the new club is the scheduling of training sessions, which would largely occur right after school, as opposed to late at night when many clubs practice. O'Connor said this is advantageous for students who travel a long way to attend DeMatha, or those who usually train late at night with their respective club teams.
O'Connor said the club will charge an entry fee to participating players and in addition to traveling to Europe, also will compete frequently in national tournaments with high exposure to college coaches.
“We're going to find a lot of speed bumps along the way, and it's going to be a learning process for us,” O'Connor said. “We're going to have growing pains, but all-in-all we feel this is best for the school and the kids, as well as where soccer's heading.”