Andre Canegata admitted that the transition was a tough experience, but he stuck with it and he's now starting to reap the benefits.
The 18-year-old St. Croix native has been away from family and friends for the last two years while attending the prestigious IMG Academy soccer program in Bradenton, Fla. Some of the most talented youth players from around the globe come to IMG to strengthen their athletic skills on the field and off it.
Consider it a high school for sports prodigies.
"I came here to prove my full potential," Canegata said Thursday. "During the first year, getting adjusted was tough. It was a new place, new people and they kept you very busy."
The hard work is starting to pay off for Canegata. This week he was named to the IMG Academy soccer program's final roster for the under-18 squad that will be competing at the Dallas Cup in Dallas, Texas. IMG Academy soccer program will attempt to advance past the group stage in the under-19 division starting Monday with games against Lonestars Red Academy, Utah ODP and FC Dallas Youth Blue.
"It's the first time I've made the final roster, so I'm pretty excited," said Canegata, a 6-foot, 185-pounder who plays right defensive back and right midfield. "We all have confidence we can get out of the opening group and make a play for the championship."
IMG won the Dallas Cup in 2005 and 2007 and finished third last summer in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy League.
Canegata, who started playing soccer in Kingshill, St. Croix, when he was 9 years old, said he was among four players vying for the final roster spot.
The Dallas Cup has an impressive alumni list. It includes former English National Team captain David Beckham, current U.S. National Team captain Landon Donovan, Mexican standout Rafael Marquez and Wayne Rooney, of Manchester United, just to name a few.
"As one of the most respected and competitive youth tournaments in the world, the IMG Academy soccer program players will face some daunting competition," said Tom Durkin, director of the IMG Academy soccer program. "If we play to our ability and with a determined mind state, we can play with any youth team in the country."
Since its inception in 1980, the Dallas Cup has played host to teams and referees from more than 45 states, 100 countries and six continents. For boys ages 12-19 competing in seven age groups, the Dallas Cup entertains on average more than 160,000 spectators during the week.
Soccer wasn't always a way of life for Canegata. He was home-schooled his first two years of high school while none of his three siblings played soccer growing up.
"There weren't a lot of options for me on island," said Canegata, who admitted to still being a little homesick and plans to return to St. Croix for a visit in April. "That's why I came here. I want to continue to train and keep improving. If I continue to work hard, maybe one day I can play for the national team or for a professional club."