Playing against D.C. United on June 30 was a career highlight for most of the Ocean City Barons.
But they need only to look across the Atlantic Ocean toward Denmark to see that they can go even further.
That's where Jeremiah White's lucrative professional career has taken him. White, 27, is a striker for AGF Aarhus in the Danish Superliga, where the level of both play and pay are higher than in Major League Soccer.
But just six summers ago, White was honing his game with the amateur team that was then known as the South Jersey Barons in the Premier Development League.
"It helped me stay fit and stay sharp," White said in a July 5 phone interview from Denmark. "It was a good opportunity for exposure."
White grew up in Lansdowne, Pa., and attended Wake Forest University.
After his junior season, White, already a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference first-teamer, was recruited by two friends to play for the Barons in the summer.
It turned out to be a more important decision than he knew at the time.
White had thought about playing in Europe - "It's always been the dream," he says - but it wasn't until a Barons game against the Vermont Voltage that his dream started to pick up momentum.
"It was in that game that a guy who was from Serbia saw me playing and asked me if I wanted to go to Europe," White said. "It had been mentioned to me before from other people, but that was the first time someone was really serious and followed up."
White finished the 2003 season with six goals in nine games for the Barons. He went on to earn first-team All-America honors as a Wake Forest senior, and bypassed the MLS in favor of pursuing his dream in Europe.
After considering several countries, White ended up with a team in Serbia. From there, he played for teams in France, Greece and finally Denmark.
White flourished in Denmark and finally got the attention of the United States national team coach Bob Bradley, who invited him to camp.
On Jan. 19, 2008, White became the first former Baron to play for the U.S. when he entered a friendly against Sweden in the 81st minute.
While he says he didn't get a chance to show much, White was invited to be on the U.S. roster for the Gold Cup this summer, but his Danish team did not want him to leave. White was fifth on the team with three goals last season and had seven assists. He started 22 of 34 games as AGF Aarhus (13-15-6) finished sixth out of 12 teams in the Danish Superliga. The team opens its 2009-10 season next Monday.
Still, he says there's a chance he could play again for the U.S. national team in the future.
Back in Ocean City, White's story serves as motivation for the current Barons.
"Knowing he was at the national team level is a huge inspiration and gives everyone a lot of hope and excitement for what the future can hold," said Barons defender Kevin Curran, who graduated from Ocean City High School in June. "I can look at that and strive toward that."
Coach Neil Holloway said alumni such as White and Jamie Franks, a Medford native playing for Chivas USA of the MLS, are major reasons why top players join the Barons now.
"We make a big deal of the very good history of our players," Holloway said. "I think that's one of the attractions for players to come and play for us, because they know our history. It's there for everyone to see."
The next Baron to play in a big-time pro league could be J.T. Noone. An All-American as a junior at Temple last fall, Noone trained with the New York Red Bulls last Monday and plans to play professionally after he graduates.
Noone said it shouldn't surprise anyone that White went from the Barons to the U.S. national team.
"That's a huge jump," he said, "but I think that a lot of good players have come through the program and will continue to."
White said one key is taking advantage of the opportunities offered by playing for the Barons.
"Really reach out to people who you can trust to help you better your career," he said. "Whether your aspirations are of playing in MLS or abroad, reach out to people who have connections."
Holloway reminds his players often that they could be the next Barons success story. He made sure to point it out before the D.C. United game, which the Barons lost 2-0.
"My way of relating to our players," Holloway said, "was saying, 'Don't be frightened, because someday you'll be professionals yourselves.'
"Maybe in a couple years' time, you'll see some more of those Barons boys on MLS teams."
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