MANDEVILLE, Manchester — The Manchester Football Association, St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) and Manchester High are now beaming with pride.
Two of their brightest young football stars, Deshorn Brown and Jason Johnson, are the latest Jamaicans to be drafted into the US Major League Soccer (MLS) — North America's top football league — directly from the collegiate level.
They follow in the footsteps of former Bridgeport High Manning Cup captain Darren Mattocks, who achieved the feat last year and now plies his trade for Canadian-based franchise Vancouver Whitecaps.
Brown, a 2009 daCosta Cup winner with STETHS, was selected as the sixth overall pick by Colorado Rapids in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft, while Johnson, who represented Manchester High, will be joining fellow Jamaicans Jermaine Taylor and JeVaughn Watson at Houston Dynamo. Johnson was selected as the 13th overall pick.
Brown and Johnson represented their respective schools in that 2009 daCosta Cup final.
Both players, like Mattocks, are also Generation Adidas players, "a joint venture between the MLS and US Soccer, sponsored by Adidas, which encourages early entry of college players into the MLS." Generation Adidas players, who are believed to earn a much higher salary than the league minimum, are also guaranteed scholarships to continue their education should their professional careers hit a snag.
Manchester FA President Dalton Wint, who watched both players blossom over the years in parish-run and school competitions, said the feat is as much a success for the FA and the schools involved as is it a personal milestone for the youngsters.
"This is the type of success that the FA has always aimed for," said Wint. "We are passionate about youth development, so it's really a great feeling to see two players who came through our system and played against each other in the (2009) daCosta Cup final go on to earn contracts in the highest football league in America."
Wint believes this latest achievement will now serve as a motivation for younger players in Manchester.
"This is definitely a big motivation for the younger players," he said. "We have always kept the spotlight on these players - the FA actually made a special presentation to them when they were drafted into the national programme some time ago - and what we will try to do now is use them to motivate the youngsters because they have set good examples," he said.
Johnson, who is from Alexandria in St Ann, played most of his High School football at Knox College but later attended Manchester High where he really blossomed as a player.
The 22-year-old attacking midfielder/striker was a key member of the Manchester team that lost the daCosta Cup final to STETHS. Despite losing the title, his exploits in schoolboy football eventually earned him a place in the senior Reggae Boyz squad that lost 2-1 to Argentina in 2010. Johnson won his only senior cap in that game.
Barry Watson, who was Johnson's coach at Manchester and Mile Gully FC, before he joined the Virginia Commonwealth University, is delighted with his former player's feat.
Watson said he had no doubt that Johnson would become a professional. "From the first time I saw 'JJ' playing in a youth match I knew that he had the potential," remembered Watson, "and I actually said to myself 'this is a boy I would love to work with.'
"It's not a surprise that he was (drafted), either, because this was always the intention," added Watson. "He always wanted to be a professional footballer and I know he will use the MLS as a stepping stone because he really wants to play in Europe."
STETHS principal Keith Wellington, who has been a "father" and a mentor for Brown and remains a close personal friend and adviser, hailed the latter's achievements as vindication of the high school's efforts to develop "well-rounded" individuals, who are prepared for all aspects of life.
"Deshorn is living proof of that," said Wellington. "We try to make sure those students who are involved in sports benefit in every respect from their life at school so that they can move on to university, if at all possible, and a profession... again Deshorn is living proof of that," he added.
Andrew Edwards, the man who coached Brown at STETHS, said he was excited and proud.
"I'm elated for him and his family because I know this is a lifelong dream of his," said Edwards. "Personally, I'm very proud as well, knowing that I would have made a contribution to his development."
He added: "It wasn't totally surprising, though, because when you look at his college record he would have been one of the most effective strikers. A lot of the scouts and coaches were also... a top three pick."
Edwards, who now coaches at Munro College, is also tipping the powerfully built 22-year-old forward to reap success in the MLS.
"Certainly, I think it will take a little time for him to adjust to professional football, but he has the prerequisite to be a success," opined Edwards. "He already has the most important ingredient, which is the desire. Physically, at 6ft 2inches and about 180 pounds, I think he's equipped, so it's just for him to apply himself."
Brown, who represented Downs in the Manchester league, hails from Turner Top on the South Manchester /South East St Elizabeth border. He scored 26 goals in the 2009 daCosta Cup season to finish as the competition's leading goalscorer, before joining the University of Mobile and later the University of Central Florida.