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Leston PaulOne of this country’s more promising young footballers and captain of the country’s two prior Youth World Cup teams has opted to take up a four-year football scholarship at the University of South Florida.

Leston Paul, two time T&T Football Federation Youth “Player of the Year” in 2007 and 2008, left these shores earlier this month to begin his tenure at the University. He has already started preseason training with the football team there where he joins fellow Trinidadian Javed Mohammed, formerly of Naparima College.

Paul, who was on a training stint with Sunderland FC courtesy of the Digicel Kickstart clinic a couple years ago, has had interest from local Pro League and a couple overseas clubs but chose to expand his knowledge in the classroom and also the playing field. USF serves more than 39,000 students and offers 228 degree programs. They are part of the Big East Athletic Conference and rated among the top soccer universities there.

The 19-year-old Mayaro-born midfielder admitted that it was a tough decision to make after USF expressed interest in him even prior to his appearance at the 2009 FIFA Under 20 World Cup in Egypt last October.

“I had to think hard about my decision to take up the scholarship because it was either between that where I could further my education and play football or just go full time professional,” Paul told TTFF Media.

“But the opportunity to go to college where I will also pursue a major in business administration and also get to play football was a very good one for me and I decided to go that way. I don’t think I should have any regrets because I’m determined to come through it.”

Paul added that one of the agreements or understandings between him and the USF administration was that he be given the necessary time off to represent the country once called for international duty.

“They have said it will be okay for me to go on and play for my country when the time comes and that’s important for me as well. I don’t want to turn my back in any way because I know we have quite a few more competitions coming up especially the Olympics in 2012 and then the World Cup qualifiers for 2014 which his definitely something I would like to be part of,” added the ex-St Mary’s College player.

“At the moment I’m training with the team and settling in quite well and then next month we should be playing against some MLS teams before the season starts.”

National Under 20/Under 23 coach Zoran Vranes meantime has continued preparations of the T&T Olympic team with two sessions per week at the Larry Gomes Stadium as the country looks ahead to the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games (CAC) in Puerto Rico in July.

“We have training two times per week now and there are a few new players in the squad now who I’m looking at and trying to give the opportunity for them to excel. We have to keep the program going. Since we came back from Bermuda I have had a chance to see a few new players and we are trying to see how they fit in,” he said.

Vranes also commented on Paul’s move to USF, saying “Well he’s gone yes and he will do the best he can I’m sure. We spoke and he knows very well that he is an important part of the team and I think they understand that he has to be available to us as well and he said to me that he wants to keep on playing at every opportunity so that’s something good and we will try to make sure everything goes well,” Vranes concluded.

Good decision and example Leston Paul.
By Alvin Corneal (T&T Guardian).

Leston Paul’s decision to give preference to pursuing a University degree may have been one which a number of our young outstanding footballers have chosen over the years, but his extraordinary ability and the heavy demand which was made on his natural talent required him to carefully contemplate the future before deciding on his next move.

My emotions run high on this decision simply because the last 40 years of my life have been dedicated to assisting young players in making that said decision in order to build a solid foundation and balance, consisting of strong academics and superb sporting talent.

Having said that, the decision was much more difficult for the former National U-17 and present U-20 captain, who had earlier led our teams in the World Youth Championships in Korea and Egypt respectively.

He was targeted by T&T Pro League coaches and management to join them in their effort to emerge as champions of the annual tournament.

The alleged intention of these persons will have been to pay the young man what he may have considered a reasonable wage for his services, to join the ranks of all those who felt that football would be their way of life.

And while the belief that sport is a way of life is accurate, one must remember that it is not the only option. The athletes who were able to create a balance between academics and physical development are presently reaping the benefits of their early decisions.

Maybe that is why one must credit some of those who were able to shine in both areas and produce the type of image which would have encouraged today’s youth to follow suit. logoI can think of names like Dr Alvin Henderson, Ian Bain, Dr Trevor Leiba, Dexter Skeene, Neil Williams, Garnet Craig, Graeme, Christian and Scott Rodriguez, Veron Skinner, Alvin Thomas, Peter Lewis, Marlon Charles, David Nakhid, Shaka Hislop, Kendall Reyes, Garth Pollonais, Brian Haynes and his brother Dr Frank Haynes, Derek Arneaud, Andy Haynes, Avery John, Julius James, and hundreds of others, including my own sons, who have all gained from scholarships from Universities in the USA.

And these are only footballers. Think of those who have blossomed in sports like track and field, basketball and swimming, through scholarships to large Universities.

The presence of the Pro League may have given another option to some, especially those who may have come from low income families, with only moderate educational talent, and some enthusiastic coaches whispering an attractive sum of money for their talent.

No doubt, some parents may be receptive to these offers, especially with the economy being in a fluctuative mood and bringing up a family is a financial challenge.

Today, the desire of the kids to accept scholarships is probably based upon the exposure they can get from living abroad and the historical success of those who have gone before them, hence the reason why they have not embraced the offers afforded them at home.

The ball is now in the court of the universities and the importance which they must pay to the development of our sportsmen and women.

For the past 30 years, I have been suggesting to the tertiary institutions a method which can help us to not only educate young people academically, but physically as well.

Why can’t the freshmen students not be made to participate in one physical education programme in their initial year, mandatorily?

Surely, this could provide an eye opener for these youngsters to determine the value of that side of life.

Secondly, why should the University system not prepare teams in the major sporting disciplines and enter them in the premier divisions in football, cricket, netball, basketball, track and field, swimming, and field hockey?

In this way the students will be motivated to strike that balance and keep their eyes set on achieving their degrees, together with representing our national teams.

Don’t mention no funding, because this will not be just for the sake of the students having more fun, but for their total development, including the competitive spirit which the US place on success on the field and in the classroom.

Leston Paul has opened a door for others to follow. He now understands that there is life after football. Just look around and see how many of the youngsters who chose the way of sports alone and where they are presently.