Feb. 5, 2010
Rome, Ga. - The dream of playing professionally is one shared by millions of young athletes around the world from the moment they first develop a love for their respective sport.
For Anthony O'Garro, that dream is becoming a reality.
O'Garro, who completed his four-year Shorter soccer career this past November, has been signed by the North American Soccer League's (NASL) Athletic Club of St. Louis. He will report to Missouri on March 1 with his new team slated to begin competition in the new 10-team league in early April.
"I had always dreamed of playing professional soccer, even before I came to the United States," said O'Garro, a native of Chaguanas, Trinidad. "I was relieved when I got the call. I felt that finally, my dream is realized.
"It still hasn't sunk in yet, but maybe when I step out on the field for the first time it will hit me."
O'Garro earned his right to play in St. Louis after performing well at a scouting combine held Jan. 6-8, in Sanford, Fla., an event that featured over 200 athletes, most of which came from NCAA Division I schools.
"My first day [at the combine], I knew I had to make my name known because I was one of only a few players from the NAIA," O'Garro said. "I told myself it was all up to me. It was a mind thing."
The athletes were divided into 14 teams at the beginning of the three-day event and despite being forced to play out of position - O'Garro played center back rather than his natural position of left back - O'Garro made his presence felt, securing a spot in the all-star game as one of the combine's top 30 players.
"I did not get to play the position that I signed up for, but I told my coach `Okay, I'll go,'" said O'Garro. "On the last day they chose the all-star teams and I was fortunate to be picked."
Fortunate is a term that can be used to describe many professional athletes, but few come from as unfortunate of circumstances as O'Garro.
O'Garro's mother left him in the care of his grandmother at the tender age of 10 months. He stayed with his grandmother until he was 13 years old before finally reuniting with his mother and younger brother.
"I have never had a stable family situation," said O'Garro. "I think that it has made me stronger and prepared me for anything in life."
Like many kids in O'Garro's circumstance, he turned to sports at an early age.
O'Garro first kicked around a soccer ball at age two and began competing in soccer when he was eight years old. He also acquired a love for basketball, track and field and cross-country, but developed a particular fondness for cricket, a sport that he excelled in through high school.
"In my country, soccer is the number one sport and cricket is number two," said O'Garro, whose high school cricket teams won three national championships. "I think I was better at cricket than I was at soccer. I think I could still play at a high level right now, but I know I am not as good as I could have been."
Wanting to continue his athletic career and education in the United States after high school, O'Garro was faced with a decision between cricket and soccer. Much to the delight of Shorter head men's soccer coach Josh Severns, O'Garro picked the pitch.
"Two players from Anthony's high school that were current members of the men's team recommended him and got me video footage of him playing some games," said Severns. "When we picked him up from the airport he had one regular sized duffle bag and his soccer gear. That was about it.
"Brendon Charles and Shurman Raphael [O'Garro's two high school teammates] stressed that Anthony would make the most out of this opportunity if we could get him to Shorter College."
O'Garro arrived at Shorter in 2006 fully prepared to spend his four years as a forward at the peak of the Hawks' attack, but his career only mirrored the instability of his early childhood.
The 6-foot-2, 165-pounder occupied every position on the field during his career - he even played spot minutes in goal during spring practices and preseason scrimmages - only these constant transitions were not for lack of proficiency, but rather for his incredible soccer IQ and versatile skill set.
O'Garro scored 11 goals and handed out seven assists as a forward and midfielder during his first two seasons on the Hill. When Shorter needed help in the back line, O'Garro answered the call, earning All-SSAC honors as a defender in his junior and senior seasons.
"Because Anthony is left-footed, it allowed us to do a lot with him on the left side," said Severns. "His technical ability, strength in the air and decision making really helped us use him in a lot of different roles in his first three years with us. We look at versatility as a positive attribute and Tony possessed that.
"Every time I came to him and asked him to play in a different spot, he never asked why because he knew it was for the betterment of the team and that was what was important to him."
"When I played striker, I needed to score goals. When I was in the midfield, I needed to get assists. Playing defender, I needed to get shutouts," said O'Garro. "I started at forward when I got here and steadily moved backward. Coach Severns showed a lot of faith in me and playing every position has prepared me for anything at the next level."
All told, O'Garro ranks as one of the program's all-time greats. He finished his career ranked third on the all-time assists list with 13 helpers and his 12 career goals rank fourth on the all-time charts.
His high performance on the field was paralleled by his strong efforts in the classroom. O'Garro was a two-time SSAC All-Academic selection and this past season, was honored as an NAIA Scholar-Athlete. He graduated in December with a 3.5 grade point average and a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration.
"Anthony realizes the importance of an education and the fact that he will not play soccer forever," Severns said. "I feel he can be a great professional and have a great professional playing experience here in the States, but I am also confident that he will be a good professional in the business world or whatever avenue he chooses. He knew that athletics and academics went together here at Shorter and he excelled at both."
While O'Garro certainly made a large impact on Shorter College, O'Garro is quick to point out the positive influence that Shorter has made on his life.
"When I came over here, I can say that Shorter College is not what I had expected," said O'Garro. "My four years here were great. This institution is one of the best if you want to be great academically and in sports because there are so many people willing to help you out.
"The team and College is like a family. This was a great welcome for me in the United States."
Still, as O'Garro moves on to bigger and better things in his professional career with AC St. Louis, a close link to Shorter College could linger in his immediate future.
Present with him at the Florida combine was his Shorter teammate and friend, Kyle Timberlake, who has been invited to tryout with the NASL franchise in Baltimore. If Timberlake is signed, former teammates would quickly turn into rivals - a prospect that O'Garro gladly will accept as just another challenge.
"Hopefully [Kyle] goes there and I get to play against him," O'Garro said with a grin. "He is a handful and I'll do my best to defend him.
"I am looking forward to a new beginning and having the chance to play with top professionals. I am willing to learn in my first year and maybe in five years, you'll be hearing a lot about me."