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Benning soccer prospect shoots for national team

Not many 13- and 14-year-old boys receive the opportunity to play for the Under-14 U.S. national soccer team. Even fewer are allowed to try out for the team at the age of 12.

Fort Benning’s Alexander Harris, 12, whose father is stationed in Afghanistan with the 1st Cavalry Division, boarded a plane for Los Angeles Sunday to showcase his talent in front of U.S. National coaches. Alexander will be training there until Saturday.

Making the U.S. national team means a player is among the top 36 players in the country in his age group, Alexander said.

Alexander took big strides in a small amount of time. Three years ago he was playing recreational soccer for Child, Youth & School Services. At age 10, he was plugged in to the Columbus Football Club Red Star, where his talent was quickly noticed by his coaches. Before Alexander arrived, his age group team was ranked No. 33 in Georgia. Now, the team is ranked No. 2.

“Right away, I told everybody, ‘This kid is going to be amazing,’” said Red Star Under-12 head coach Brent Wiley. “It was his first time playing select soccer, coming from rec and he was already past everybody. I’ve never known a kid to come up as a 12-year-old and be selected for the U.S. national.”

U.S. Soccer is divided into four regions and each is scouted by U.S. Soccer scouts. In Atlanta, a U.S. Soccer regional scout watched Alexander play for the first time. Weeks later, Alexander received a letter inviting him to the U.S. National team tryout.

“I don’t know how I felt when I got the letter,” he said. “I just know I didn’t sleep that night.”

Though Alexander dedicated himself to soccer at a late age, his coaches at Red Star said his work ethic brought him to such a high level in a short amount of time.

“What really sticks out about Alexander is his attitude,” Wiley said. “For a 12-year-old to be in his backyard working on becoming a better player he does it all on his own. For all the attention he gets, he never talks about it with the team. You would never know. He’s very dedicated, very fast. He’s more driven than anyone else on the team.”

Though he has the summer off from school, Alexander begins each day at 6 a.m. with three hours of training in which he runs, works on agility and does numerous drills.

Alexander points to his dad, Kevin, who was a high school track star in Jamaica, for his motivation to train each morning. Harris and his wife, Maxine, moved to the U.S. in 1988, where he eventually enlisted in the Army. The Harris family moved to Fort Benning in 2002.

“He takes me to every practice,” Alexander said. “He’s been to every single one of my games. If he wasn’t my dad, I probably wouldn’t be where I am. He’s taught me all the things I need to do at a young age. I’m not lost without him (since he deployed) because he’s already told me constantly what to do.”

Kevin deployed in April, but he maintains as much contact with Alexander as possible to continue to support and motivate him.

“He’s always calling me,” Alexander said, “making sure I’m eating right, drinking water before I go to bed. I know he wants to be here.”

Despite the high expectations he is getting in his soccer career, Alexander said he is determined to put education first.

“At any time you can break your leg and it’s over,” Alexander said. “I want to have the academics to back it up.”

Frankovich said Alexander will have the opportunity to play soccer for any college he wishes.

The coach hopes the selection to the U.S. national team pool will bring more recognition from the local community to Red Star.

“This is just a great honor,” Frankovich said. “In the current U.S. national team, there is no one from Georgia. The U.S. team has just 30 or 40 players and there are millions of players in the United States. We are a professional club and not every club has a player that plays for a national team. That’s how fortunate we are.”Alexander said he was excited to be able to learn from nationally renowned coaches and, if he doesn’t make the U.S. national team, he will use the experience to help him improve his game.

“It’s going to help me know where I’m at,” Alexander said. “I know I’m really good in this area but players from all over the country will be there. If anything, I’m going to know how I’m going to train and know what I’ll need to work on. But I would like to come back and say I made it. I just want to go over there and make it and come back and make Columbus proud because not a lot of people from Georgia make it to the national team.”

But the Red Star coaches wouldn’t be surprised if he did make it. Frankovich, a coach for more than 20 years said he has been around some of the best talent the U.S. had to offer in that time. Among the most notable stars, he was an assistant coach to U.S. Olympic star Landon Donovan when Donovan was 15.

“If (Alexander) continues at this pace, he’s going to be a world-class player,” Frankovich said. “He’s a profound student of the game. He’s a tireless worker and he’s a natural goal scorer. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at this age.”